THE Archbishop of Canterbury raised concerns about freedom of religion in Saudi Arabia and the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, during a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, on Thursday morning.
During a one-hour visit to Lambeth Palace, the Crown Prince was shown a selection of early Christian, Muslim, and Jewish texts from the Palace Library, and met the Archbishop privately. The Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Revd Christine Hardman, and the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, were also present at the meeting. Lambeth Palace described the conversation at the meeting as “cordial and honest”.
They discussed Saudi Arabia’s “Vision 2030” initiative, which is Mr Bin Salman’s plan for the future of his country. “The Crown Prince made a strong commitment to promote the flourishing of those of different faith traditions, and to interfaith dialogue within the Kingdom and beyond,” Lambeth Palace said.
During the meeting, Archbishop Welby raised concerns about the limits placed on Christian worship in Saudi Arabia, “and highlighted the importance for leaders of all faiths to support freedom of religion or belief, drawing on the experience of the UK”.
The Archbishop “emphasised the crucial role that Saudi Arabia could play in protecting minorities across the world”, including Anglicans “who often as a minority faith community have few advocates for freedom of religion or belief where they live”.
The Archbishop also “voiced his distress at the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and asked that all that is possible be done to alleviate the suffering of civilian populations and to seek an end to the conflict”, Lambeth Palace said.
Commenting on the meeting, Amnesty International UK’s director, Kate Allen, said that she hoped that Archbishop Welby had used the meeting “as an opportunity to personally communicate the Church’s concerns over the thousands of Yemeni civilians killed and injured in reckless and indiscriminate Saudi-led coalition air strikes.
“We also hope the Archbishop was able to express concern over the ongoing jailing of peaceful critics of the Saudi government, including the prisoner of conscience Raif Badawi.”
She said that Amnesty hoped that Archbishop Welby “will have raised the need for full respect of freedom of religion in a country that prides itself as the custodian of world-famous holy shrines”.
The Crown Prince arrived in the UK on Wednesday for a three-day visit. He had lunch with the Queen and other members of the royal family, before meeting the Prime Minister at Downing Street.
Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been heavily criticised by some politicians and campaigners, who have accused him of funding extremism in the UK and carrying out human-rights abuses domestically and in Yemen.
Protesters gathered near Parliament and outside Downing Street for the Prince’s arrival in London.
On Wednesday, the Labour Party said that the UK was partly complicit in civilian deaths in Yemen after supplying arms to Saudi Arabia.
During Prime Minister’s Questions, the Prime Minister said that the Government was increasing aid to Yemen and was engaging with the Saudi government over ending the war.
The British government’s special envoy to the Saudi 2030 initiative is Ken Costa, a former churchwarden of Holy Trinity, Brompton, in London, and a former chairman of Alpha International.
Read Andrew Brown’s press column on the visit