East Ham MP Stephen Timms supports freedom of religion and belief


- Credit: Archant

I was in New York for the third meeting of the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief last weekend.

Reflecting growing concern about religious persecution around the world, it was attended by over 100 parliamentarians from over 50 countries.

Christians and Muslims are the main targets for persecution, but others are affected too. One of those attending was an MP from Burma. He cannot stand again in Burma’s general election next month, because of his ethnic origin and religion – he is a Rohingya Muslim.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights sets out, in Article 18, that “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

The meeting was addressed by senior UN officials, one of whom read out a message of greetings from Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary General.

A notable contribution came from a speaker from The Academy of Sciences in Iran. Christians and Bahais in Iran are often imprisoned for their faith, so it was encouraging to hear his affirmation in favour of religious freedom.

MPs signed three letters – to the President of Burma, about the debarring of election candidates on religious grounds; to the Speaker of the Iranian Parliament about the continued imprisonment of Christian and Bahai leaders; and to the Prime Minister of Vietnam about imprisonment on religious grounds and proposed legislation which will make matters worse. The meeting finished by adopting a “Resolution for Freedom of Religion or Belief”.

It committed signatories to “supporting the creation of new parliamentary platforms or groups that support Article 18 and that are politically and religiously diverse”. More from Stephen

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