By John Newton
AN international Catholic charity that helps persecuted Christians has welcomed calls by the European Parliament to step up action to defend religious freedom.
The ACN International statement welcoming the European Parliamentâ€™s resolution comes ahead of Mondayâ€™s (31st Jan) discussion in the EU Foreign Affairs Council about stepping up measures to promote religious liberty.
Council members are expected to debate the impact of incidents detailed in the EU Parliamentâ€™s resolution including the bomb attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt on New Yearâ€™s Day, the bombing of a chapel in the Philippines on Christmas Day, the arrests of Christians in Iran and attacks on Christians in Nigeria.
Members of the European Parliament also expressed horror at the January 4th murder of Pakistani governor Salman Taseer, who had criticised the countryâ€™s blasphemy laws and called for the reprieve of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death in November.
She was convicted under the laws that punish anyone who â€œdefiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammedâ€ with life imprisonment or death. She denies the charges.
Parliamentarians expressed concern that Pakistanâ€™s blasphemy laws are â€œstill being applied in order to persecute faith communities, including Christiansâ€.
ACN Internationalâ€™s 2010 report on Religious Freedom in the World* was one of the sources of the resolution.
ACN will shortly be publishing its biennial report* on the oppression of Christians â€“ Persecuted and Forgotten?
Catherine Ashton, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, condemned the recent terrorist attacks targeting places of worship, in a statement on 19th January.
She said: â€œI think we can all agree that these attacks are unacceptable, perpetrated by extremists with an agenda of intolerance that must be condemned and resisted.â€
â€œLong-established Christian communities in the Middle East face difficulties, which have led to significant displacement in some countries and dwindling numbers in the region as a whole.
â€œThe EU will not turn a blind eye to their plight. We consider their demand to have their rights respected as citizens of their own country as entirely legitimate.â€
This was echoed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe which adopted 17 points on â€œViolence against Christians in the Middle Eastâ€ on 27th January.
The assembly specifically condemned the 31st October 2010 attack on the Syriac Cathedral in Baghdad, Iraq and the New Year bombing of the church in Alexandria, Egypt.
The assembly stated: â€œThe situation [in the Middle East] has become more serious since the beginning of the 21st century and if it is not properly addressed, it could lead to the disappearance of Christian communities in the Middle East, which would entail the loss of a significant part of the religious heritage of the countries concerned.â€
* To obtain the ACN 2010 report on Religious Freedom in the World or its biennial report on the oppression of Christians â€“ Persecuted and Forgotten? Please click on the website link below.