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UK News

Countries with bad record on persecution request to attend UK religious freedom summit

by Tola Mbakwe

The UK government will host an International Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief next month.

It will be chaired by Christian MP Fiona Bruce, who’s also the UK’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief.

The summit will gather politicians and campaigners from more than 50 countries to continue to make progress on the issue.

Speaking to fellow Christian MP Tim Farron on his Premier Christian Radio show, A Mucky Business, Ms Bruce said most international representatives attending are part of a 36-nation religious freedom alliance. However, she said what’s interesting is more nations with historically poor records on religious freedom are beginning to engage in the conference.

“In the last few weeks I'm finding that I'm being approached by diplomatic representatives from countries who aren't part of the alliance who are saying we want to come.

“Just last week, I had a meeting with the ambassador from Uzbekistan in London. Uzbekistan is a country where there are many prisoners of conscience, where they haven't got a good record on this. He acknowledged that, but he said to me, ‘We're on a journey. Can I have an invite to your conference? ‘

The ambassador also asked if he could bring some representatives with him and have a private meeting with Ms Bruce to talk about how they can progress on their “journey”.

According to persecution watchdog Open Doors Uzbekistan is largely Muslim, so any Christian who converts from Islam faces increased pressure from their family and community.

It adds: “Christians like these may be beaten or expelled from their communities. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable to house arrest, which remains a common and socially accepted form of pressuring female converts. These girls and women also risk being kidnapped and married off to a Muslim – or, if she is already married, divorced and denied any possessions. As a result of all these risks, many converts from Islam are forced to hide their faith.”

However, Ms Bruce said she is encouraged by the eagerness of Uzbekistan’s ambassador to have conversations. Kazakhstan, which also has a poor reputation for religious freedom, has also shown interest in the conference.

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