Two MPs with polarised positions on Europe have paired up to raise the issue of Christian persecution in Montenegro.
The small country which borders Serbia and aspires to be an EU member passed a controversial 'Law on Religious Freedom' in December 2019 that means a state-issued license is now required to practise religion and many buildings could be taken out of the Church's hands as they need to be registered with the state and approved by politicians.
There were claims that MPs who opposed this law were detained from the vote.
With 80 per cent of the country considering themselves members of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the law has been seen as largely discriminatory towards Christians, as well as Jews and Muslims.
The law has led to many protests and several priests being arrested, detained and accused of violating health rules related to coronavirus.
Former leader of the Liberal Democrats and campaigner for remaining in the EU, Tim Farron, has teamed up with the Eurosceptic MP Steve Baker, who led the European Research Group, to show their unity on this issue and plead with the British Government, the EU and NATO to help Christians in Montenegro and apply pressure on the country's President Milo Djukanovic.
They have written a joint article in the political magazine Newsweek, stating: "We may sit on opposite sides of the British House of Commons, divided by party and the great issue of Europe. Yet we stand united by our Christian faith - and our conviction that all have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion."
Tim Farron told Premier: "As somebody who is a Christian and wants to stand shoulder to shoulder with my brothers and sisters there, this is something we should take out of the shadows and talk about more publicly."
He explained that President Djukanovic's motive "seems to be an old gangster-ish desire to acquire capital, to acquire buildings and resources, money for the regime - which is in poor financial shape. Either way, it leads to the persecution of people who are observant of their Christian faith."
Farron and Baker anticipate that the imposition of financial sanctions on the country would work, with Farron saying: "Montenegro is not a huge powerful country and is dependent upon patronage from others..it's also not a very wealthy country. One of the reasons why Djukanovic is doing this, we think, is because he wants to fill his coffers and he sees the Church as having lots of valuable property.
"So he will respond, I'm certain, to financial pressure and having senior people within this regime facing travel bans, having their assets in the UK - of which there is a great deal - frozen, including Djukanovic himself, I think potentially could mean that he has to change tack."
Jeremy Hunt, who whilst Foreign Secretary commissioned the Bishop of Truro's report into the persecution of Christians worldwide, has also shown his support for Montenegrin Christians, retweeting the article and saying: "Freedom of worship is a basic human right - but too often Christians are overlooked. We must defend their rights robustly."
Farron explained that Christianity is too often seen as 'the establishment,' meaning harm is ignored.
"Society is sniffy about whether Christians are really persecuted and it's important that we remind people that, I think of all faiths on the planet, Christians suffer the greatest volume and range of persecution. And so it's massively important that the Government engages with it."
The MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale believes the Government understands Christian persecution recommendations "philosophically" but added, "what I don't see is any energy about actually trying to make this so."
Speaking of his alliance with the hard Brexiteer Steve Baker, Farron said: "It's fine to have robustly different views but the key thing is how you express them and do you act with integrity? And if you screw up, if you kind of go too far sometimes, you show some level of contrition and repentance. I see all of those things in Steve so I'm a big admirer of him. I think he's a really decent guy, he believes strongly what he does politically but he's always acted with grace to the other side, which is not always the case on either side.
"Cross-party working for people who have similar views on a particular matter is really important, it makes it surprising, makes it all the more likely people might do something about it."
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