Naomi Long MP said: “Freedom of religion and freedom of conscience are issues on which I have placed significant emphasis in my time at Westminster and I believe the evidence shows that societies that respect those fundamental human rights also tend to fare better in their protection of other human rights.
“In Africa, as a result of the growing influence of Islamic extremism in countries not previously affected, reports of persecution of Christians have significantly increased. Whilst this has been most notable in Mali, it is also evident in countries such as Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Niger.
“In the Middle East, the Arab Spring, which initially seemed to offer hope of progressive reform and the creation of more tolerant and democratic structures, has instead had disastrous consequences for many Christians in the region and there is evidence of a major exodus of Christians from those affected countries.
“In recent weeks, Egypt has witnessed an unprecedented attack on the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate in Cairo by mobs. The attack was on mourners attending the funeral of four Christians killed in an earlier incident in Al-Khosous, a town north of Cairo. This incident is indicative of the rise in violent attacks on Christians and the continuing lack of initiative shown by the authorities to deliver on their promise to protect Egypt’s Christians.
“Christians are not the only group that face such persecution; indeed, I have previously sponsored a debate regarding persecution of Bahá’ís in Iran, because I believe that Freedom of Religious Belief as defined by Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a right that should be enjoyed by all and protected and supported by all.
“By continuing to regularly shine a light on this issue in Parliament, I hope that it sends a strong message that religious persecution will not go unseen or unchallenged by the international community and that the cause of religious freedom and freedom of conscience will have a strong, international advocate in the UK Government.”