More than 100 MPs were represented at this year's parliamentary launch of the WWL; thanks to each of you who took time out to invite your MP. They and other peers and parliamentarians heard the latest statistics, updates and first-hand stories about the persecution facing 365 million Christians worldwide, and how they can use their influence to bring vital change. Scroll to the bottom to find out if your MP was represented.
Henrietta Blyth told MPs, "It is incumbent on each of us to do everything we can to ensure that this freedom [of religion or belief] is replicated and defended across the world"
At the parliamentary launch of the latest World Watch List, hosted by Dame Andrea Leadsom MP, Christians from Iran, India and West Africa shared first-hand what life is like for millions of believers worldwide. Thank you to all of you who invited your MP – your contribution is bringing the plight of our persecuted family to the attention of those with power to make a difference.
Also in attendance alongside the 101 MPs represented were peers Lord Ahmad and Baroness Foster, with the former taking to the front during the event to share a few words stressing the importance of uniting together to defend and promote freedom of religion or belief.
In her opening speech, Henrietta Blyth, Open Doors UK & Ireland CEO, highlighted the horrific attacks on Christian villages in Plateau State, Nigeria over Christmas, which killed 160 believers and wounded many more.
“The violence from Islamic extremists, such as Boko Haram, ISWAP and Fulani militants, has spread like wildfire across sub-Saharan Africa,” she explained, noting that it was aided by factors including fragile governments that are at risk of collapse. “This year’s research suggests that – under the cover of chaos – the violence against Christians has actually intensified.
“Elsewhere, the noose is tightening around the church’s neck as autocratic governments increase their control,” she continued, referencing Nicaragua which has jumped 20 places to 30 in the latest World Watch List, and China, where 10,000 churches were attacked or closed last year.
MPs then heard from our persecuted family directly, starting with Dabrina, a church leader forced to flee her home in Iran.
"Why should practising one's faith come at such a high and unjust cost?" Dabrina
“It's with a heavy heart and a deep sense of frustration that I speak to you, expressing my concerns about the ongoing injustices, persecution, and challenges related to religious freedom in Iran,” shared Dabrina. “Despite numerous uprisings, protests, and sacrifices made in the name of freedom, things are now worse than ever.”
“In 2023, more Christians were arrested, sentenced, and had their homes raided than in the previous year. It turned out to be the year with the highest number of reported incidents of arrests and imprisonments in the Christian community,” she said, before sharing her story and those of others she knows.
“The growing number of Christians leaving Iran reflects the difficult challenges they confront, leading them to leave their homes, families, and loved ones,” she continued. “The fundamental question remains: why should practising one's faith come at such a high and unjust cost?”
Via a recorded message, a Christian from Manipur, India, shared about the devastation felt by believers at the hands of Hindu extremists when violence broke out between tribal groups in the region last year. More than 120 believers have been killed, and 4,500 buildings and homes belonging to Christians and some 400 churches destroyed. Around 50,000 believers have been displaced.
"Human words can’t express the agony, the pain, the desolation we felt" Christian from Manipur
“Human words can’t express the agony, the pain, the desolation we felt; the sense of despair tens of thousands of tribal Christians are facing,” he said, adding that believers in other parts of India also face opposition from those fuelled by an extreme form of Hindu nationalism. “This violence is all part of their plan. In their view of India, there is no room for minorities like us.”
The last speaker, from West Africa, drew attention to one of the key trends from the latest World Watch List: rising violence sweeping across sub-Saharan Africa.
“Militants formally associated with so-called Islamic State (IS), or taking inspiration from them, are stalking our lands,” he shared. “Their mobile, heavily armed militias, raid villages to rape, kidnap and murder. They might be a bloodthirsty unit of four or five, targeting homes, churches and villages in northern Nigeria or they may be a legion of thousands, controlling rural stretches of Burkina Faso.”
He closed his speech with a challenge. “I do not want the UK Government’s money today. I want something that will cost you even more than cash. I want your moral courage. I challenge you to risk paying a political price in speaking up for us.”
Henrietta Blyth closed the event with three recommendations:
She continued, “Despite all the opposition, more and more people are coming to faith in Jesus and churches continues to be a force for good in the communities they serve.” But she stressed that for the global church to continue its positive contribution to society, it’s incumbent on those who have freedom to use their voice to speak out against persecution.
“The World Watch List paints a grim picture,” she added. “But there is hope. Prayer and action work.”
Thank you to the many of you who invited your MP to the event. Here's a list of all those who supported the launch of the World Watch List:
Sir Peter Bottomley
Sir Graham Brady
Sir Jeffrey M Donaldson
Sir Iain Duncan Smith
Sir Liam Fox
Preet Kaur Gill
Dame Andrea Leadsom
Angus Brendan MacNeil
Stuart C McDonald
Ian Paisley Jr
Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg
Sir Gary Streeter
Sir Desmond Swayne
Sir Stephen Timms
Your support helps persecuted Christians continue to courageously follow Jesus.
Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.