Jeremy Hunt has ordered an independent review, chaired by the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Reverend Philip Mounstephen, to examine what practical steps Britain can take to help Christians around the globe.
It follows what officials said was a “dramatic rise in violence” against followers of the religion, with an average of 250 killed each month.
The review will have three aims:
:: Mapping the persecution of Christians in “key countries” in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
:: Provide an “objective analysis” of the level of UK governmental support on offer.
:: Provide recommendations for a “cohesive and comprehensive policy response”.
Mr Hunt said: “Britain has long championed international religious freedom and the Prime Minister underlined our global leadership on this issue when she appointed my excellent colleague Lord Ahmad as her Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or belief.
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“So often the persecution of Christians is a telling early warning sign of the persecution of every minority.
“Today I have asked the Bishop of Truro to look at how the British Government can better respond to the plight of persecuted Christians around the world.
“We can and must do more.”
Bishop Mounstephen said leading the review would help shed light on “an issue close to my heart”.
“Part of the Christmas story tells how Jesus was himself the victim of persecution so it seems particularly timely to launch this review at this season.
“I’ll be taking an objective look at how the British Government can better respond to the pressing plight of persecuted Christians around the world.”
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The plight of Christians was highlighted by the case of Asia Bibi, sentenced to death eight years ago for blasphemy against Islam in Pakistan.
Her conviction was overturned by the country’s supreme court earlier this year, a decision that led to protests in Pakistan from extreme Muslim factions, and accusations here that the UK government was not doing enough to help her.
Bibi is still in “protective custody” in Pakistan. Several countries have offered her asylum and negotiations are said to be underway, however the UK is not one of them.
Her supporters believe fear of unrest within certain elements of Britain’s Muslim community is the reason for the UK’s reluctance to help.
Among those to criticise the government’s position is the former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. He declared that “we cannot allow the threat of violence to deter us from doing the right thing”.
He added that Bibi had an “overwhelming claim for compassion from the British government”.