As the nonpartisan Pew Centre records, Christians are the most persecuted religious minority in the world. And there is in the West an appalling reluctance to discuss this issue or take any action in connection with it.
The scale of the persecution is enormous. According to Mike Gore, chief executive of Open Doors, the leading Protestant non-governmental organisation working in this area, persecution of Christians is now worse than it has been at any period since biblical times. “I would say the persecution of Christians is increasing rapidly,” he says.
Bernard Toutounji, head of the equivalent Catholic body, Aid to the Church in Need, makes a similar judgement: “The situation is continuing to get worse, especially in Pakistan, China and across the Middle East. The Western world in general is asleep at the wheel.”
Open Doors estimates about 215 million Christians in different parts of the world face serious, ongoing persecution. The true figure, Gore thinks, is higher as this encompasses only the 100 biggest nations. Another widely held estimate is that about 250 Christians are killed for their beliefs every month. These estimates are naturally imprecise but no one really disputes them.
The fate of Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian woman condemned to death on a ludicrous charge of blasphemy, could be decided as early as this month.
In 2009 she made the awful mistake of drinking water from a well. For this she was abused and told that as a Christian she was unclean and could not therefore share anyone else’s drinking cup. There was an argument, and she and her family were badly beaten.
During the beating, she confessed to blasphemy. A long and tortuous legal process ensued and she was subsequently sentenced to death. After nine years in jail, Bibi was finally acquitted on appeal last October. Her confession under torture could not be relied on.
Her suffering didn’t end there. Huge mobs demonstrated against her in the streets, demanding her death. An Islamist group appealed against her acquittal, and this could be determined this month.
For a time after she was released, Bibi had to move from house to house in fear of her life. She is now, with her husband, in a protected situation at an undisclosed location.
Hers is one of very few cases of the persecution of Christians to pierce the determined Western indifference to Christian suffering in many parts of the world.
Yet Bibi’s plight has not produced the response from governments you might expect. Britain and the US have not offered her asylum. But all the leading Western nations are in active discussion about her fate. I am pleased to report that Australia is taking a strong stand against persecution of Christians
Canada has been the most forward, suggesting it will take Bibi and her family and offer them a safe life. Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton of Australia has said: “If the discussions with Canada fall through, we will facilitate bringing Asia Bibi to Australia.”
Foreign Minister of Australia, Marise Payne tells The Weekend Australian: “Australia is deeply concerned about restrictions on Christian communities imposed by some governments and non-state actors around the world.
“Bringing attention to restrictions on religious freedom is a key priority of our current membership of the UN Human Rights Council. We will continue to use every possible avenue to express Australia’s opposition to the targeting of Christian communities internationally.