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Maira Shahbaz thumb.jpg
World News

PM's freedom of religion envoy receives asylum petition for Christian girl in Pakistan

Fiona Bruce MP, the Prime Minister's Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, has received a petition calling for asylum to be granted to a 14-year-old Christian girl in Pakistan whose life is in danger. 

The petition calls on Boris Johnson to allow Maria Shabaz and her family to live in the UK and was presented by religious freedom charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)

Maira was abducted close to her home last April and she later told police how she was forced on pain of death to convert and marry her abductor, whom she alleges blackmailed her after filming her being gang-raped. 

In August, she escaped her abductor, who responded by accusing her of apostasy. 

Church leaders, friends of hers in Pakistan and legal advisors have told ACN that the girl and her family are in hiding and have been receiving constant threats and that people had been reported going house to house, demanding to know their whereabouts.

Church leaders and charities have warned of fatal consequences if they do not leave Pakistan soon. 

Fiona Bruce, Conservative MP for Congleton, said: "Maira's situation, and that of her family, is a tragic one and hearts goes out to her - as demonstrated by the thousands upon thousands of people who have signed Maira's petition which I have received today. I am immediately drawing it to the attention of the Home Secretary for her urgent consideration." 

More than 12,000 people have signed Maira's asylum petition and an open letter to the Prime Minister backing the asylum bid has been supported by more than 30 MPs, peers, bishops and leaders of charities and human rights' organisations. 

Among the bishops backing Maira's appeal is the Rt Rev Philip Mounstephen, who produced a report into the Foreign Office's support for persecuted Christians and made recommendations in 2019. 

Bishop Philip said: "Tragic cases like that of Maira Shahbaz are a test case for the UK Government's commitment to put freedom and religion front and centre in its foreign policy. 

"I urge the Government to recognise how Maira's rights have been potentially fatally compromised and offer her asylum."    

Archbishop Angaelos, Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London, said: "Over the past years we have seen numerous examples of religious intolerance leading to the vilification and active persecution of communities and individuals. It is my feeling that Maira Shahbaz is in such a position at the moment. 

"In line with Britain's generous policy of providing refuge and safety to those most vulnerable, I hope that Maira and her family will be afforded the opportunity of living in the safety that we would all expect for ourselves."
 

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