Speaking during a Westminster Hall debate on 22 May, Chris Philp, Conservative Member of Parliament for Croydon South, called on the government to do more to help persecuted Christians around the world and to make aid to Pakistan conditional on “blasphemy” law reform.
Highlighting the suffering of Christians in Pakistan, Nigeria, Egypt, India and North Korea, he said, “whatever efforts are being made at the moment, worldwide they are not enough … the problem of Christians being persecuted is getting worse, not better.”
His call for action was supported by a number of other MPs, including Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, Labour MP for Slough, and David Linden, SNP member for Glasgow East. Gregory Campbell, DUP MP for East Londonderry, also emphasised the persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria, stating, “in relation to the Middle East alone, we are talking about unprecedented movements of Christians out of their historical homelands”.
Chris Philp challenged the government to make aid to Pakistan conditional on reform of the country’s “blasphemy” laws: “the largest bilateral recipient of [government] overseas aid is Pakistan, which receives about £350 million a year. Yet, Christians there are persecuted terribly with violent acts. The court system in Pakistan often prosecutes Christians using blasphemy laws, which are wholly contrary to any notion of free speech or religious freedom. I believe we should be looking at imposing some conditionality, particularly on aid we give directly to another government. We should ask that they do more and not just pay lip service … but that they take real action to prevent the persecution of Christians”.
Section 295 of the Pakistan Penal Code is often referred to as the “blasphemy law”. The two most serious criminal offences it lists are “desecrating the Quran,” which carries a mandatory life sentence, and “defiling the name of Muhammad,” which is a capital offence. There is no punishment for false accusation and therefore this law is often misused to settle personal grudges. Christians and other non-Muslims are particularly vulnerable to false accusation by Muslims. No executions have yet been carried out, but a number of Christians (including Aasia Bibi) and others are on death row.