House debates

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Grievance Debate

Religious Persecution

6:09 pm

Photo of George ChristensenGeorge Christensen (Dawson, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise this evening to speak on a matter of great importance to many in the Australian community and many in the international community—that is, the growing persecution of Christians around the world. In 2021 the situation for many Christians around the world remains dire. A current snapshot by non-government organisation Open Doors reveals 340 million Christians suffer harassment or persecution, and one in every eight Christians suffers a severe form of persecution. Between 2016 and 2018 in particular, grave violations of religious freedom took place in 38 countries, in 17 of which Christians suffered instances of severe discrimination. Radical extremist Islam is responsible for the persecution of Christians in 22 of the worst-offending countries. More than 2.4 million Christians have been killed in the past 20 years through bombings, shootings and beheadings. At least 75 per cent of all religiously motivated violence and oppression is suffered by Christians.

Two of the causes of Christian persecution are the rise of authoritarian regimes and the rise of violent Islamist terror groups or militia. As a result, we see the repression of Christians in countries including Iraq, Egypt, Nigeria, the Central African Republic, Sudan, India, Pakistan, Burma, Sri Lanka, China, Indonesia, the Philippines and North Korea. For simply practising their faith, such as attending church services, Christians are targeted by violent Islamist terror groups or militia. And their holy icons are also targeted as a symbol of the hatred these violent groups or militia have for all that is good in the world.

China, under the Communist Party of China, is officially atheist, with the CCP deciding which religious practices are consistent with CCP ideology. Christians in China are subjected to increased surveillance and violations of personal privacy. In China, churches are monitored, raided and shut down. Crosses have been removed from churches and online Bible sales have been restricted. Publicly expressing Christian views can result in interrogation, loss of property or imprisonment. There are reports of elderly Christians having their government assistance taken away, simply for professing their faith. Freedom of association to meet with other Christians is nearly impossible. In fact, authorities claim that the practice of Christianity is a threat to national security and have enacted laws to ban or restrict the gathering of certain groups. Other citizens are financially rewarded for sharing information about Christians to local authorities. Finally, there are documented cases of torture, forced disappearances and forced labour, including the mass killing of criminals of conscience—to harvest their organs, such as what happened to the practitioners of Falun Gong.

In North Korea, between 50,000 and 70,000 Christians were imprisoned in labour camps and killed instantly if their faith was discovered. Under Kim Jong-un's dictatorship, anyone with ties to a Christian friend or family member is denied any advancement in their career. In such cases, children do not know that their own parents are believers. The secrecy that surrounds prison camps ensures that transparency and accountability remain elusive. Freedom of expression is denied and citizens are subjected to control, surveillance and punishment, contributing to a severe breach of basic human rights. Some reports suggest Christians have been executed merely for being in possession of a Bible.

In Africa and the Middle East, hardline political Islam has ushered in more violence perpetrated against people of the Christian faith. In Nigeria, extremist groups such as Boko Haram and the Fulani Islamic militants regularly attack Christians through execution, torture and kidnappings. After one Christmas attack the terrorist group Islamic State West Africa Province, or ISWAP, declared: 'This is a warning to Christians in all parts of the world and those in Nigeria.' ISWAP is a splinter group of Boko Haram, which has pledged to turn Nigeria into an Islamist state. Also in Nigeria, Islamic militia groups have taken over villages and farmlands in order to control local populations. Few schools are able to function, due to ongoing violence which has also led to famine. Reports detail thousands of Christians who remain in camps designated for internally displaced people, and farmers are killed when they attempt to return to their farms.

Closer to home, South and East Asia have been identified as the new hotspots for persecution. Holy Week is a prime time for anti-Christian violence in this region. In Indonesia on Palm Sunday this year, two suicide bombers detonated their devices outside a mass, leaving around 20 people wounded, including a security guard who had prevented there being further victims. Two years earlier, in Sri Lanka, the local militant group National Thowheed Jamath, or NTJ, coordinated a series of bombings on Easter Sunday, targeting churches and hotels, killing 258 people and injuring around 500 more. The Islamic State claimed responsibility, as it's linked with NTJ. Five training camps for jihadists were subsequently found. Their strategy was guerrilla warfare, with the primary objective of killing Christians.

As Australians, the Christian faith is the foundation of many of the values that we hold dear as a nation. As part of the Western world, our fight against international human rights injustices is a result of our Judaeo-Christian values and traditions. I remind this House that many hardworking Australians have fled oppressive regimes to live in this free and democratic country. It's acknowledged that, whilst not always perfect, Australia has a proven record on the protection of freedom of religion and belief, and, despite the decline of practising Christians, Australia has a good record as a tolerant nation.

However, there have been some high-profile recent cases that show that religious freedom is also under attack in our country. I point to the facts that Archbishop Julian Porteous of the Roman Catholic Church was hauled before an antidiscrimination tribunal for promoting a church booklet on the church teaching on marriage and that rugby player Israel Folau, after posting a paraphrase of a Bible verse on a social media account, essentially lost his sporting career. On top of these high-profile cases, there are many more that go unheard of. If we are to fix this type of discrimination, an appropriate religious discrimination bill is needed in this country.

But, abroad, Christian suffering is much, much worse. In fact, as I've outlined, it's a matter of life or death. In recent years, the Australian government has made representations concerning persecution in different parts of the world, including against Christians, in places like India, Pakistan, China and Sudan and persecution against Catholics and Buddhists in Vietnam. Australia has provided financial contributions to help stem this persecution. As well, we have supported the creation of regional democratic institutions in the Asia-Pacific region.

We provide this representation and aid, and we seek stability in our region, in order to avoid humanitarian disasters, but the fact remains: humanitarian disasters are unfolding in parts of the world. Christians are being persecuted, and the persecution of Christians affects the rights of all people and poses a threat to our core values and, inevitably, our national security. Religious freedom is cognate with other freedoms, such as freedom of speech, thought, conscience and association. Consequently, limiting religious freedom can result in simultaneously limiting these cognate freedoms as a knock-on effect. This is why Jan Figel, the European Union's first special envoy for religious freedom, stated: 'Religious freedom is a litmus test of overall freedom in society and overall universal human rights, so it is important to pay due attention.'

With no mainstream media coverage, we must ensure that this crisis of Christian persecution gets the attention it deserves. A good start would be the appointment of an ambassador for religious freedom for this country. The US and other nations that share our values have similar appointments. An ambassador for religious freedom would serve to monitor abuse and violence as a result of religious persecution, harassment and discrimination worldwide, and recommend, develop and implement policies and programs to address ongoing and serious issues. Such an ambassador would ensure that there's a dedicated role for advocacy, research, policy implementation and diplomatic engagement with states engaging in persecution. An ambassador would provide a pathway for engagement with oppressive regimes, as well as providing a mechanism to challenge violent ideologies that target Christians. An ambassador would also promote universal respect for freedom of religion or belief as a core objective of our national and foreign policy. This would reinforce the ultimate reality that, while Christians are primarily persecuted, the proliferation of violence and extremism in any form is a problem for all of us as a community. I have a website——that's pushing for this. I encourage people to support it.