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I turn to the points that have been raised tonight. Apostasy is a difficult issue, especially when it concerns Islam, as several Islamic countries prohibit and punish apostasy. In some countries, it is even punishable by death. In others, apostates are charged with other offences such as blasphemy, defaming Islam or insulting their country. However, this does not deter us from making representations to promote the freedom of individuals to change their religion, nor from promoting Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has been quoted tonight and is a formidable article of an extraordinary document. We strongly believe that people have the right to practise their beliefs as well as to change their religion if they so wish. Some of the countries in which we have made this case are Eritrea, China, Mauritania, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Libya, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria and Pakistan, among others.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, talked about Nigeria. In Nigeria’s recent universal periodic review, the UK raised the issue of economic, social and cultural rights. We also recommended that Nigeria should take further steps to address discrimination against minority and vulnerable groups. Last week, I met a remarkable Muslim leader from northern Nigeria, the Sultan of Sokoto, who agreed with me, and indeed volunteered the point, that those who are responsible for the intercommunal violence last year needed to be held to account and brought to justice, and that only if that sort of impunity was brought to an end would these problems be resolved.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, also raised the case of Burma. I reassure her that our ambassador in Rangoon frequently presses the Burmese authorities to end human rights abuses. We condemn the marginalisation or persecution of any community based on its religious beliefs. Although it makes the abuses no less serious, the persecution of religious minority groups by the Burmese authorities is often based in reality on their ethnicity and a perceived threat to security rather than solely on their faith.

Sudan was also mentioned. We have reminded the Government of Sudan of their responsibility to maintain order, to protect the deployment of UNAMID, which is so important in Darfur, and to allow full access for humanitarian assistance. More critically, we must ensure the effective implementation of the north-south agreement, the CPA, because it was from that agreement that the release of those in the south from the violent persecution of those in the north finally came. Ensuring that the steps laid out in that agreement are fully honoured and lead to elections and a referendum that allows the people of the south to choose whether they wish to remain in Sudan is the critical political track to solving this issue.

As to India, the noble Baroness will be aware that through the EU delegation, which visited Orissa state in December, and through the EU-India human rights dialogue, which will take place later this month, we

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will continue to press our concerns about what happened in Orissa. I have raised this issue directly with the high commissioner here and with officials in India.

Equally, in the case of Egypt, former Minister Kim Howells raised the issue of religious freedom directly with the Speaker of the Egyptian Parliament about a year ago. On 11 March last year, our embassy in Cairo met the Egyptian Deputy Minister for Human Rights, and again there was a discussion of the freedom of religion and Egypt’s wider commitment under these conventions.

As regards the DPRK, North Korea, there is no freedom of religion. While I am delighted to hear perhaps the first green shoot—a term that a politician uses carefully—of some freedom, when it comes to the orthodox church, our view remains that those churches are primarily limited showcases for outsiders and that nothing close to freedom of religion is operating across the country as a whole. We will work closely with NGOs, including Christian NGOs, in the run-up to the Human Rights Council review of the DPRK this year.

Let me say to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that we perhaps do not lobby as specifically on religious persecution as we should. Our main concerns have been the use of labour camps, torture, the absence of any freedom of speech and certainly the absence of any right to organise or to come together as groups of any kind in North Korea. I acknowledge that the 2008 EU-sponsored UN General Assembly resolution on human rights specifically mentioned freedom of religion. Recently, we lobbied on human rights more generally when the director of our Asia-specific department met a delegation here of the Workers’ Party of Korea. We raised religious freedoms during the visit of that delegation. On China and returnees to North Korea, we are as concerned as the noble Lord about the status of North Korean border crossers to China. We raised that issue most recently at the UK-China human rights dialogue in January of this year.

We are all aware that the defamation of religions, which has come up in several forms, is difficult. We have to find our way, because, as we saw just recently with the visit of the Dutch MP, who has been referred to, we must protect a person’s right to criticise the religion of other people, but we have to take care when it crosses the barrier, not any more into freedom of speech, but to incitement of violence and a potential racial prejudice. Since July 2005, 270 people have been excluded from entering the UK on the suspicion of being a threat to national security or of fostering extremism. There is a clear test—the incitement test—which the Home Secretary uses in making that determination. It is notable that a Dutch court has recently ordered that Mr Wilders should be prosecuted for making statements about Muslims.

In closing, perhaps I may say that the duty of this Chamber and the role that this Chamber can play goes much broader than the UK alone. A debate like this is heard everywhere around the world by those religious minorities who feel oppressed and feel that their case has been forgotten. To everyone who has participated tonight, let us hope that we have lit one more candle in this long quest for religious freedom for all.

House adjourned at 9.14 pm.


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