Religious liberty is one of the foundations of a “stable and secure democratic society”, the UK’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief has said.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Fiona Bruce MP drew attention to the UK Government’s International Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief in July, which will seek to address increasing restrictions on religious liberty worldwide. Over 50 Governments are expected to be represented.
The MP said: “Respecting freedom of religion or belief is important because it is so closely connected to other human rights, such as free speech, the right to assemble, the right to work and even the right to life itself. When freedom of religion or belief is not respected by those in authority, all too often, other rights crumble, too.”
Mrs Bruce welcomed the Government’s engagement with the issue following the recommendations made in the Bishop of Truro’s 2019 report on Christian persecution.
“Each year, millions of people around the world are increasingly having their freedom of religion or belief restricted, and to devastating impact.
“A key reason is the increase in persecution by authoritarian regimes, including through the misuse of technology.”
When freedom of religion or belief is not respected by those in authority, all too often, other rights crumble, too.
She highlighted examples of digital censorship, including the blocking of websites and social media posts.
Bruce, an MP since 2010, added: “Concerns about surveillance, censorship and disinformation must become a standard element of our response to persecution of freedom of religion or belief, rather than, as at present, an afterthought.”
The Minister for Asia and the Middle East, Amanda Milling, told the House: “I make it absolutely clear that human rights must be protected both offline and online.
“New technologies and online communities provide a platform to strengthen democracies and human rights, but they also provide new tools for repression, persecution and censorship, which are putting open societies and democratic freedoms under pressure.”
Online Safety Bill
Last week, MPs called for more robust free speech protections to be included in the Government’s Online Safety Bill ahead of it passing its Second Reading in the House of Commons.
While parliamentarians welcomed measures designed to safeguard children online and action against illegal content, a number warned the Bill puts free speech at risk.
The Bill will require social media companies and search engines to restrict content which is ‘legal but harmful’ to adults and will empower Government ministers to decide what this covers.