Violence in Israel and Palestine

Imran Ahmad Khan Excerpts
Wednesday 12th May 2021

(3 years ago)

Commons Chamber
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James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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The rocket attacks by Hamas, whose military wing has, as I say, been proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the UK Government, are completely counterproductive to the effort for peace and do harm to the Palestinian people. On behalf of moves towards peace, we urge Hamas to cease these actions, because they are completely counterproductive to peace and completely against the interests of the Palestinian people, in Gaza and elsewhere.

Imran Ahmad Khan Portrait Imran Ahmad Khan (Wakefield) (Con)
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I am deeply concerned by the escalating tension between Israel and Palestine, and we all here condemn the violence against civilians, on both sides, be that the murderous missile attacks or the misguided attempted eviction of Palestinian residents in Sheikh Jarrah.

Given that the missile technology employed in attacking Israeli heartlands could have come only from Iran, does my right hon. Friend agree that now is not the time to do a deal with Iran that rewards it for instigating further instability in the region, as well as violating the JCPOA—joint comprehensive plan of action—nuclear commitments and its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty? Is this not another reminder, were one needed, that we must not appease this dangerous regime?

James Cleverly Portrait James Cleverly
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I am not able to speak on the point my hon. Friend has made about the potential relationship between Iran and Hamas at this point. As I have said, we are working to de-escalate the situation and bring about peace. More broadly, we are seeking to bring greater stability to the region and to dissuade Iran from its destabilising actions within the region. That will continue to be a priority piece of work for Her Majesty’s Government.

Human Rights: Xinjiang

Imran Ahmad Khan Excerpts
Thursday 22nd April 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Imran Ahmad Khan Portrait Imran Ahmad Khan (Wakefield) (Con) [V]
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When we discuss genocide, we must understand the horrific ordeal that those who are persecuted suffer. Mr Deputy Speaker, imagine having your family and loved ones torn away from you, imprisoned, tortured, raped, sterilised and murdered, all for the crime of being who they were, or being different. Imagine being discriminated against for your belief or being subject to political or ideological indoctrination. For millions alive today, this shared nightmare is their reality and these horrors are just some of the sickening crimes being inflicted upon the Uyghur people, with knowledge, approval and consent from Beijing and the Chinese Communist party.

This is a genocide. More than 1 million Muslims, most of whom are Uyghurs, have been detained, indoctrinated, sterilised and tortured. We have not seen the systematic detention of an ethnic minority group on this industrial scale since the holocaust. This is not only an evil programme, designed to eradicate an entire culture, but an effort to profit off the back of human slavery, suffering and misery. At least 80,000 Uyghurs were transferred from Xinjiang camps to work in factories across China between 2017 and 2019. The report entitled “Uyghurs for sale”, from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, provides a damning insight into these slave factories. One factory in eastern China that manufactures shoes for Nike is equipped with

“watchtowers, barbed-wire fences and police guard boxes.”

These crimes must cease. We, who live free, possess a moral duty to stand up to the Chinese Communist party and uphold the values of pluralism, decency and human rights. Doing nothing in the face of overwhelming evidence would render us complicit in this most monstrous crime. Enough of words alone. If the United Kingdom is to be regarded as a true defender of liberty, freedom and justice, we must act. The International Court of Justice’s position on genocide could not be clearer: the obligation to prevent arises the instant that a state party believes that there is a risk of genocide. The case law states that we are obliged to do all we can to protect the very moment that we reasonably suspect genocide is a serious risk. As parliamentarians, we must do all we can to stop these atrocities. The time to act is now.

Hong Kong: Electoral Reforms

Imran Ahmad Khan Excerpts
Wednesday 10th March 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
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Of course, the situation is not as the hon. Lady describes. I understand why she has put it in such terms, but we must remember what the Trade Bill is intended to do. Its key measures will deliver for UK businesses and for consumers across the UK, and it provides continuity and certainty as we take action to build a country that is more outward-looking than before. The UK has long supported the promotion of our values globally, and we are clear that more trade does not have to come at the expense of human rights.

Imran Ahmad Khan Portrait Imran Ahmad Khan (Wakefield) (Con) [V]
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Under the Sino-British joint declaration, obligations exist that clearly state the UK will ensure a “high degree of autonomy” and way of life in Hong Kong. While I applaud Her Majesty’s Government for introducing the BNO scheme to defend the rules-based international system, we must ensure that China is held accountable, and that there are consequences for breaching a binding treaty. Will my hon. Friend outline how his Department intends to properly hold China to account for breaching the Sino-British joint declaration?

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
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My hon. Friend raises a good point. We are a co-signatory to the joint declaration. We have a responsibility to uphold the content, and a duty to speak out when we have concerns, which is what we have done. We did so last year: the Foreign Secretary has declared two breaches of the joint declaration in response to the national security law, and, of course, when the details that come out of the National People’s Congress are published, we will examine them and respond accordingly.

Treatment of Uyghur Women: Xinjiang Detention Camps

Imran Ahmad Khan Excerpts
Thursday 4th February 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
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We are working incredibly hard with our international partners to ensure that there is an effective response to the situation in Xinjiang. The hon. Gentleman raises a very good point. We will continue to do that. I do believe that our diplomatic pressure is having an international impact, by virtue of the fact that the most recent statement had 38 countries joining us. We will continue to work both directly—bilaterally—and internationally to ensure that China is held to account for its international obligations.

Imran Ahmad Khan Portrait Imran Ahmad Khan (Wakefield) (Con) [V]
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Like my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani), I was appalled by the statement from the Chinese embassy condemning the BBC report about the treatment of Uyghurs, including the systematic rape of detained women, as little more than fake news. This is another example of the Chinese state denying genocide, despite it being glaringly obvious that the Chinese Communist party is orchestrating the systematic eradication of the Uyghur.

Unlike some today, I believe that whether a totalitarian state is established or not, we must have the courage and confidence to resist inhuman despotism, as this country proudly has in the past. Will my hon. Friend tell me when and which additional measures the Government intend to employ in the light of the overwhelming and still growing mountain of evidence of human rights abuses and shameless lies by the Chinese Government?

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
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I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Again, I know how passionate hon and right hon. Members feel about this particular issue. With regard to the measures, we have taken action, as he knows, both at the UN and with our statements bringing together our international partners. We announced further measures in January aimed at targeting companies that are potentially indirectly or inadvertently profiting from forced labour. We will continue to look and to lead international efforts to hold China to account. We will consider carefully further designations under our global human rights regime, and we will keep all evidence and potential listings under close review. It is important that sanctions are developed responsibly, and it is not appropriate to speculate on who may be designated in the future.

Myanmar

Imran Ahmad Khan Excerpts
Tuesday 2nd February 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his co-operative tone on matters such as this. I believe we are all on the same page in this regard, and his comments about us working with international partners are absolutely right. Given our presidency of the G7 and the UN Security Council, we are using these opportunities to drive forward the international response, and that will include dealing and liaising with our friends in the EU. We all need to stand together to demonstrate that we will not stand for a subversion of democracy. We are talking with a broad range of international partners, including the neighbours of Myanmar, and especially the ASEAN countries. The hon. Gentleman mentioned aid. This year, the UK is spending £88 million in-country in Myanmar on supporting the people of Myanmar. In addition, since 2017 we have spent almost a third of a billion pounds supporting humanitarian aid and supporting the Rohingya who are displaced and have found themselves in Bangladesh.

Imran Ahmad Khan Portrait Imran Ahmad Khan (Wakefield) (Con) [V]
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Like all Members of this House, I found myself deeply disappointed when Aung San Suu Kyi chose to take no action against the genocide of Rohingya, but that grave failure should not temper our condemnation of the quasi-constitutional military coup, which undermines the futures, freedoms and democratic rights of the Burmese people. Will my hon. Friend the Minister further outline what his Department is doing to promote the fundamental and universal rights of democracy, freedom and liberty in Burma in light of the recent events?

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
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I know how passionate my hon. Friend feels about values and democracy, and I assure him that the United Kingdom places the highest premium on respect for democracy and the rules-based international system. We have been talking to regional and international partners about that, and we call on Myanmar to respect the principles of the ASEAN charter, including the rule of law, good governance, as I mentioned, and the principles of democracy and constitutional government.

Government Policy on Iran

Imran Ahmad Khan Excerpts
Wednesday 9th December 2020

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Imran Ahmad Khan Portrait Imran Ahmad Khan (Wakefield) (Con)
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Iran boasts a long and rich history that has played a crucial role in influencing culture, art, poetry, science and philosophy across the globe. Not only is Iran home to one of the oldest civilisations, which began with the creation of Elamite kingdoms in 3300 BC, but it is also home to the Cyrus cylinder, the first historically recognised universal charter of human rights, created in 534 BC, pre-dating the Magna Carta by well over a millennium.

Regrettably, the Minister will be aware that the Iran we know today is very different from the one we look back to and admire. Today’s Iran is one of the world’s biggest state sponsors of terrorism and home to one of the deadliest dictatorships in the world. Human rights abuses are rife. Hundreds of Iranian civilians have been killed by their own Government. Protesters have been brutally repressed and religious minorities such as the Bahá'í face persecution.

On the international stage, Iran’s stratagem threatens the regional balance of power, our interests in the region and our own national security. Tehran openly supports the terrorist group Hezbollah, providing it with financial aid, weapons, munitions and military training. One attack orchestrated by Hezbollah, fortunately followed by MI5, was against targets in our own capital, London. In 2017, Iran reportedly carried out a cyber-attack on the UK Parliament and against email accounts belonging to Cabinet Ministers and our Prime Minister.

Allowing Iran to continue these attacks affronts, insults and diminishes our position in the eyes of the world. Releasing the Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 was nothing short of a national embarrassment and undermined our image as a reliable ally that does not buckle under pressure. If we wish to better secure our national security and bolster our reputation in the eyes of our allies, a much stronger stance must be taken against Iran. Now is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate our willingness to stand up to the tyrants of Tehran, whether for breaching the joint comprehensive plan of action, their flagrant disregard of fundamental human rights or their financing of terrorism.

The UN arms embargo on Iran expired in October, which now provides Iran with a chance freely to purchase deadly weaponry. We have an opportunity to campaign for the reinstatement of the embargo and even to unilaterally establish our own embargoes. Other measures must be considered, such as further trade sanctions for failure to adhere to the articles of the joint comprehensive plan of action. The use of Magnitsky-style sanctions against key targets in the Iranian regime that propagate human rights abuses would send a strong message to the opposition and to Iran’s Government.

In the post-Brexit era, the United Kingdom no longer has the obligation to side with Brussels in our policy on Iran—a policy that has too often been based on appeasement. We should work instead with our strongest friends and allies, notably the United States, to become a true champion of freedom and an opponent of those in Iran who effectively hold their own people hostage.

International Development and Gender-based Violence

Imran Ahmad Khan Excerpts
Thursday 26th November 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Imran Ahmad Khan Portrait Imran Ahmad Khan (Wakefield) (Con)
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I will not congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) on securing this debate, but certainly I commiserate with him on the need to discuss this tragic subject. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister has found my hon. Friend’s case as powerful and persuasive as I have.

Sadly, I have on too many occasions sat, in distant, dangerous places ravaged by war or suffering a poverty of effective state structures, with women whose painful stories have left my cheeks wet. Over the course of the covid-19 pandemic, it has become glaringly apparent that cases of violence against women and girls have increased dramatically. Globally, 35% of women have experienced either physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner or non-partner in their lifetime. That statistic, however, does not take into account sexual harassment.

According to a report by ActionAid, 87,000 women around the world were intentionally killed in 2017. Of those, 50,000 were killed by a family member or a significant partner. That is an outrage. Globally, 650 million girls and young women alive today are married before their 18th birthday, with Niger, Central African Republic and Chad having some of the highest figures.

[Christina Rees in the Chair]

The covid-19 pandemic has only served to intensify some of these issues throughout the world. Domestic abuse cases have increased exponentially throughout the lockdown period. In April, the charity Refuge reported a 700% increase in calls to its helpline in a single day.

The recent merger of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development presents an opportunity for the United Kingdom to formulate a new strategy in tackling violence and discrimination against women across the globe. We do, of course, have a track record to be proud of in the United Kingdom. Aid and development spending has had a significant impact on reducing violence against women. Through aid programmes, more than 14 million children—6 million of them girls—have gained a decent education. Since 2015, nutrition-relevant programmes by the Department for International Development have reached 60.3 million women, children under five and adolescent girls. One UK aid project reduced rates of domestic violence from 69% to 29% across 15 remote villages in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo—a place I know—over a two-year period.

I object to the cut in the foreign aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5% of UK GDP. The potential repercussions for our ability to tackle violence against women and girls are such that it is likely to have significant and long-term negative consequences. However, I do accept that aid is only one tool at our disposal that can be used to tackle violence against women. Applying significant pressure to Governments with poor track records on women’s rights and domestic abuse is an alternative. If we are to redetermine and reposition our place in the world following our departure from the European Union, Her Majesty’s Government should ensure that we do not shy away from our obligations to those most in need, most vulnerable and most impoverished. I urge Her Majesty’s Government to utilise their membership of the high-level panel on women’s economic empowerment and our leadership role in the UN action coalition on gender-based violence, to demonstrate our, the United Kingdom’s, commitment to tackling this very serious issue.

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Naz Shah Portrait Naz Shah (Bradford West) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I congratulate the hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) on securing this very important debate. He talks very passionately about the issues for women, in particular, in regions of unrest and war.

On that note, I would like to talk about violence against women in occupied Kashmir by the Indian armed forces. We know that the rape of women becomes the weapon of choice in areas of conflict. I consider myself a daughter of Kashmir, because I spent my teenage years in Azad Kashmir in a village in Pakistan, where I had the luxury of being able to go to school without opening the front door and finding the military there with guns. I had the benefit and the freedom of going to school and going about my business without worrying about being cornered or subjected to rape, and without worrying about the women in the village being subjected to rape by the armed forces. That was a privilege that I enjoyed—that was in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

In occupied Kashmir, however, there are some instances where women still have not received justice, and I will highlight some of them. The first UN human rights report in 2008 called for an inquiry, and I hope the Minister will support that call. Calls for inquiries have often been dismissed as propaganda by the opposite side—whichever side that is. That is not acceptable, and it should not be acceptable to us that those inquiries have not happened.

Human Rights Watch has identified two main scenarios where women are being raped by Indian forces: first, during searches and cordon ops and, secondly, during reprisal attacks by Indian forces after military ambushes.

Nowadays, 23 February is commemorated as Kashmiri Women’s Resistance Day because on that date in 1991, up to 150 women and girls were raped en masse—the biggest mass rape that has ever happened anywhere in this world. Indian soldiers were told to go on a mass raping spree in the villages of Kunan and Poshpora, and that is what happened. The women are still waiting for justice; not one perpetrator was held to account.

Recently, with the revocation of Article 370, Nivedita Menon, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, said:

“These are proclamations of conquest and plunder, and reveal the real intention behind the abrogation of 370”.

On 10 August 2019, Manohar Lal Khattar, Chief Minister of Haryana, was quoted as saying:

“Some people are now saying that as Kashmir is open, brides will be brought from there. But jokes apart, if [the gender] ratio is improved, then there will be a right balance in society”.

Earlier, the Bharatiya Janata party’s Vikram Saini, a member of a legislative assembly, said:

“Muslim party workers should rejoice in the new provisions. They can now marry the white-skinned women of Kashmir”.

I went to Pakistan, to Azad Kashmir, and met lots of Kashmiri women. Many Kashmiri women have come here to make representations to this House, to members of the all-party parliamentary Kashmir group and to others, and they have told us of the horrors that they have faced.

I wanted to talk about this today because I have lived in Kashmir; I have seen what it is like to have freedom, even in somewhere like Pakistan and even after having been subjected to a forced marriage myself. I absolutely understand what the hon. Member for Totnes was talking about, but I still had the freedom of not having someone putting a gun barrel against my back, taking me into a corner and raping me. I still had those privileges in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and I am looking forward to taking my daughter there to introduce her to those areas.

What of those women in Kashmir, who cannot leave? We struggle, as people here, with the curfews—

Imran Ahmad Khan Portrait Imran Ahmad Khan
- Hansard - -

The story that the hon. Member tells about her own forced marriage is tragic. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) has mentioned in relation to the case of 14-year-old Maira Shahbaz, it is slightly hollow for Pakistan—whether in Azad Kashmir or the main part—to protest about freedoms and human rights when its own laws allow for the abuse of its citizens.

In Maira’s case, it is not just that a 14-year-old girl was gang raped and then kidnapped out of her home; she was then forcibly converted to Islam, so if she now renounces that religion, she will be sentenced to death for apostasy under Pakistani law. That really makes the points that the hon. Member made, which are all right, hollow in the case of Pakistan.

Naz Shah Portrait Naz Shah
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Member for his intervention. I recognise what he is saying, and he makes a powerful point. However, I do not recognise the idea that this is hollow. That is whataboutery, and we are not here for whataboutery. We are here because every life matters, as we have heard from every single Member who has spoken in this debate. For every 14-year-old that was raped in Pakistan, I can talk about the eight-year-old child that was raped in occupied Kashmir. This is not a competition about which girl deserves more of our concern, or in which area in the world that girl should be protected. That is not what this is about.

Let us get this right: our laws in this country do not give us equal pay, and we are the biggest democracy in the world. I will not take lessons on hollowness from the hon. Member when his Government have not implemented equal pay for women, and when they are even worse when it comes to black and minority ethnic women. Let us not belittle this debate and bring it down to whataboutery. This debate is about women.

The hon. Member for Totnes was spot on. As he highlighted, this debate is about looking at the 16 days of activism to stop violence across the world. Whether that is in Pakistan, India or Uganda, and whether it involves Boko Haram or any other terrorist organisation, women are being used as a weapon of war. They are being raped, and they are being violated. That is what the House needs to understand. We must work together, regardless of whether that is happening in Pakistan or India. I wanted to focus on the issue of women in occupied Kashmir being gang-raped by Indian forces, and I will not have that diminished. That is what must be highlighted, and that is the note on which I will end my contribution to this debate.

Covid-19: Freedom of Religion or Belief

Imran Ahmad Khan Excerpts
Thursday 26th November 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Imran Ahmad Khan Portrait Imran Ahmad Khan (Wakefield) (Con)
- Hansard - -

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) for securing this important debate. The covid-19 pandemic has drastically altered how we work, interact with one another and enjoy our lives. The manner in which we congregate in prayer has also drastically changed, causing some who have contacted me to question the state of freedom of religion in the United Kingdom. As I had hoped, this debate has provided the much-needed perspective to answer them by starkly contrasting the situation here with that suffered by untold millions around the world.

Under the terms of the present lockdown, which will last until 2 December, it is illegal for churches, mosques and any other places of worship to open for congregational prayer. All significant assemblies of people, however pious, whether that be at entertainment venues, sports halls or other arenas, have been severely restricted under the current measures.

Together with all God-fearing folk who are respectful of the law, I am relieved that it will not be a criminal offence to gather for worship in the new three-tier system in England following the current lockdown. Regardless, I do not believe that the measures undertaken by Her Majesty’s Government can in any way be construed as representing an attack on the freedom of religion or belief. Rather, they represent restricted access to gathered worship in the interests of public health. Although that is certainly not normal, the essence of religion remains free.

All people of faith should be united in the common belief that the only true way to worship and serve the Creator is to love and protect his creation. I would argue that the very act of following the Government’s guidelines, if the intention is to protect one’s fellow citizen, is in itself a meritorious act of worship.

During the height of the pandemic and the lockdowns, religious leaders transferred their sermons, prayers, studies and meetings to Zoom calls and other online video-conferencing platforms. Rather than access to religious services being limited, they have arguably become all the more accessible, and it is the same with a wide array of social interactions. Irrefutably, it has been neither the purpose nor desire of Her Majesty’s Government to exclusively target worship and religious houses in the fight against coronavirus. However, I appreciate that virtual congregation should never, and indeed could never, replace physical congregation or the feelings and experiences that mass gatherings bring to both an individual and the wider community.

Freedom of religion and the right to believe is actively under assault across the globe. In Pakistan, Ahmadi Muslims are systematically persecuted by the state. Ahmadis can be imprisoned or even sentenced to death for simply describing themselves as a Muslim or describing their mosque as a mosque. In China, as my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton mentioned, up to 1 million Uyghur Muslims, Christians and adherents of Falun Gong have been rounded up and placed in re-education camps, where they are subject to political indoctrination, forced sterilisation and violent torture. My hon. Friend has provided vivid and deeply distressing examples—a litany—of the crimes faced by those who wish to believe, and she described how such actions have been amplified by the perpetrators of such crimes owing to the covid pandemic.

The situation that we in the United Kingdom currently endure in our fight against covid bears absolutely no resemblance to the atrocities inflicted on religious minorities around the world. Freedom of religion here is enshrined and protected and has not been infringed by the state. Rather, temporary measures on access to places of worship have been regrettably implemented to control the spread of covid-19. Religious leaders, churches, synagogues, gurdwaras, temples, mosques and other places of worship have already proven their ability to provide a vital spiritual service to their congregation during the first lockdown through the use of technology.

I pray for the day when all the restrictions are lifted and worship can return to normal in the UK, and that all people, wherever they live in the world, are soon able, like us, to take as a given their right to live, work and worship as they choose without threat or fear.

--- Later in debate ---
Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is regretted right across the ministerial team, but such measures have been forced on us by the pandemic. It is a temporary measure.

Imran Ahmad Khan Portrait Imran Ahmad Khan
- Hansard - -

The Minister mentioned a commendable list of seven areas that will now be the FCDO’s core areas of funding, but I noticed the absence of a vital one. Although he mentioned conflict resolution, there was no mention—unless it is a sub-category of that—of upstream conflict prevention. That is certainly the most cost-efficient and best way to stop conflicts occurring, and it is an area in which the United Kingdom has an incredibly valuable asset.

I used to be an active member of the Oxford Research Group with Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Gabrielle Rifkind and Tim Livesey, who used to be the chief of staff of the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband)—it is multi-party. It has a great arsenal of talent and people that it can employ for the sake of security elsewhere. If upstream conflict prevention is not included, are we selling Britain short?

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I do not believe so at all. It is important to be mindful of all areas. Prevention of anything is better than cure in many ways and less expensive. My hon. Friend makes a hugely important point. We need to strengthen democratic institutions to ensure that these things are headed off. We need to ensure effective governance and free media as part of protecting human rights. All those things are positive contributors.

The effects of the pandemic have been overwhelming and far-reaching, and will continue to have an impact on our lives for some time to come. As a longstanding champion of human rights and freedoms, the UK has a duty to defend our values of equality, inclusion and respect at home and abroad. I thank all hon. Members for their excellent contributions and for the debate that we have had on the issue of the day. I assure the House that the Government will do just that: whatever obstacles lay in our path, we will continue to raise awareness of those who are persecuted for what they believe, stand up for the rights of minority communities around the world and defend the right to freedom of religion or belief for everyone everywhere.

Persecution of Ahmadis

Imran Ahmad Khan Excerpts
Monday 23rd November 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Imran Ahmad Khan Portrait Imran Ahmad Khan (Wakefield) (Con)
- Hansard - -

I am an Ahmadi—an Ahmadi Muslim. Ahmadis are a peace-loving community, whose motto is “Love for all, hatred for none”. At the core of Islam is a belief that the only true way to serve the Lord is to serve and love his creation. It is for this reason that Ahmadis devote themselves to serving the cause of justice and humanity everywhere. Sadly, however, the Ahmadiyya Muslim community is an object of hate and suffers vicious persecution around the world. The epicentre of this hatred is Pakistan.

Siobhain McDonagh Portrait Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In the light of what the hon. Member has just said, is he aware that, only yesterday, another Ahmadi—Dr Tahir Ahmad—was murdered in Lahore, Pakistan by a teenager? Does he regard it as frightening that the most radicalised and anti-Ahmadi of the community in Pakistan tend to be the young?

Imran Ahmad Khan Portrait Imran Ahmad Khan
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I thank the hon. Lady. The tragic news of Dr Tahir and his murder was on Friday evening. A gunman came to their home and shot at him and his family. He sadly died immediately. His father, I understand, is still in a critical condition, fighting for his life. Other members of the family sustained gunshot injuries. I understand they are believed to be making it through. But this is simply a sad testament to the environment of hate and intolerance that is being preached in Pakistan.

This is what I was saying: the Ahmadiyya Muslim community is an object of hate and suffers vicious persecution around the world, but the epicentre of this hatred is Pakistan, where Ahmadis are the only religious community to be targeted by the state on the basis of their faith.

Fiona Bruce Portrait Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Imran Ahmad Khan Portrait Imran Ahmad Khan
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Maybe in a moment or two—I will just make a little progress, if I may.

In 1974, the Government of Pakistan kowtowed to the extremist hate-mongers that characterise a perverted form of Islam we now sadly see in so many corners of the world, when Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto shamefully amended the Pakistan constitution to declare Ahmadis non-Muslims. It is a tragic irony that many of the preachers of prejudice from Jama’at-E-Islami are the political heirs of the exact same people who fought tooth and nail against the great Jinnah in his struggle to establish the state of Pakistan, wherein all Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews and others were promised the right to freedom.

Since then, increasingly more draconian measures have been inflicted on the Ahmadiyya community, including the promulgation of Ordinance XX in 1984 under the brutal dictator General Zia. Under that ordinance, it is punishable with three-year imprisonment, an unlimited fine and even the death penalty for Ahmadis simply to call themselves Muslim, or to call their mosques a mosque. As a consequence, Hadrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, the 4th Caliph, was forced to leave Pakistan. Today, Ordinance XX is used to persecute minorities in Pakistan, including Christians and Hindus. Pakistan suffers the great ignominy of having codified and granted constitutional legitimacy to religious discrimination and persecution.

Fiona Bruce Portrait Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con)
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My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. He touches on the nub of my intervention. Does he not agree that the real tragedy in Pakistan is that it is the very constitution and laws of Pakistan, particularly the blasphemy laws, that are so often the basis for the persecution of the Ahmadis and indeed other religious minorities, when, in any country, these should be the cornerstone of the protection of fundamental rights such as freedom of religion and belief?

Imran Ahmad Khan Portrait Imran Ahmad Khan
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I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention, with which I agree entirely. Her points are incredibly well made. The great tragedy is that Pakistan was set up initially with a beautiful vision of a country that celebrated diversity and pluralism. Jinnah and the architects of Pakistan saw difference as the gold and silver threads that would weave into the tapestry of the state and make it stronger, not weaker. Jinnah’s lieutenant was Chaudhry Muhammad Zafarullah, with whom I grew up and had a very close relationship. He has been declared a non-Muslim. He was Pakistan’s first Foreign Minister, the President of the UN General Assembly and the President of the International Court of Justice. The state was built by great jurists who were great lovers of freedom and justice and that legacy has been shamefully discarded.

This persecution and that loss of the legacy that could have been is just as evident, sadly, in Pakistan’s civil society. Ahmadis are openly declared “wajibul qatl”, which means “deserving to be killed”, in the Pakistani media and by religious and political leaders. The recent successive murders of four Ahmadis in Peshawar is the evil evidence of just how impossible it is for Ahmadis simply to live and worship as they please. Those murdered include Mr Mairaj Ahmad on 13 August, Mr Tahir Ahmad Naseem on 29 July, Professor Naeem Ud Din Khattack on 5 October and Mr Mahboob Ahmad Khan on 8 November. All four men were murdered in the same city on account of their belief. As the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) mentioned, last Friday, 31-year-old Dr Tahir Ahmad was murdered at his home when a gunman shot at him and his family.

Horrifyingly, the vile abuse and persecution suffered by the Ahmadiyya Jamaat is not confined to those who are alive. Some 39 Ahmadi bodies have been disinterred from what should have been their final resting place, and 70 Ahmadi Muslims have been denied burial in communal cemeteries. This year, in July, dozens of Ahmadi graves were desecrated and their gravestones destroyed by Pakistani state law enforcement officials in Gujranwala district. Heartbreakingly, members of the Ahmadiyya community are spared no respite from persecution either in life or death. How is it possible that these atrocities occur in a country whose leaders answer when questioned that their constitution provides its citizens with the right to freedom of religion and belief?

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
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I commend my friend the hon. Gentleman for bringing forward this Adjournment debate. He is making a powerful speech. I am shocked not only by the deaths and murders he describes, but at the fact that the Ahmadi people are denied the right to call themselves Muslims and to call their place of worship a mosque, and that they are denied the vote. Does he agree that this is a shocking suppression and persecution of a people?

Imran Ahmad Khan Portrait Imran Ahmad Khan
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The right of people everywhere to live, work and worship as they choose is the most fundamental and universal right that we have. It makes no sense, either to an individual or to a state, to inhibit, stamp on or impede that right, because that means that the very blossom and flower of the state and of the children of the state is trampled on. We in this venerable place should not think, “Why would they do such a thing?” because what is happening is of no purpose and of no sense—it is senseless and deeply upsetting because of that.

Freedom of religious belief, as the hon. Gentleman has mentioned, and other values that we in the United Kingdom hold dearly, such as tolerance and celebration of pluralism, are not just ideals to be debated in this House, discussed in lecture halls or written about by academics; they have, as we have discussed, very real consequences for the lives of people everywhere.

My own family understand this only too well. I could place on the record the numerous attacks against my immediate family, my larger family and myself. For example, my first cousin’s Syrian husband, Dr Mousallam Al-Droubi, left Damascus and was worshipping at an Ahmadi mosque in Lahore in May 2010 when gunmen stormed in, massacred 87 supplicants around him and left him and over 120 other worshippers with grave injuries, all on account of their belief. Their crime? To worship as Muslims.

Pakistan is the world’s leading exporter of hate across the globe, which it fabricates on an industrial scale. This dangerous extremism and religiously inspired violence has been broadcast, transmitted and normalised in communities around the world, who ape this hideous behaviour.

For example, anti-Ahmadi hate speech has been broadcast through television and radio in the United Kingdom. Channel 44, an Urdu language current affairs satellite channel, was fined £45,000 by Ofcom for airing two episodes of a discussion programme which featured a participant making serious and unsubstantiated claims against the Ahmadiyya community. That was not the first such case. In 2013, Takbeer TV, a free-to-air Islamic channel, was fined £25,000 after broadcasting statements describing Ahmadis as having “monstrous intentions” and being “lying monsters”.

There is a direct connection and correlation between that sort of hate speech and violence perpetrated against members of the Ahmadiyya Jamaat. Freedom of speech certainly is a vital pillar of our way of life, but incitement to murder and violence is not, and never has been, freedom of speech. Hatred preached in Pakistan does indeed result in violence on the streets of the UK and around the world.

The 2016 murder of Scottish Ahmadi shopkeeper Asad Shah, while working peacefully in his shop in Glasgow, evidences that truth. His crime? Sending out Easter greetings to his Christian neighbours and friends. Like all Ahmadis, he felt a part of that community, and they a part of his. Here we see the Ahmadis’ belief in love for all and hatred for none juxtaposed against the peddlers of hate.

A report by the all-party parliamentary group for the Ahmadiyya Muslim community entitled “Suffocation of the Faithful” has raised concerns that the deliberate targeting of members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat in the United Kingdom originates from Pakistan—a result of the filthy reservoir of hate that Pakistan permits and enables. Worse, there is evidence, as outlined in the APPG’s report, that aid money given by Her Majesty’s Government is spent on supporting Government-run schools in Pakistan that encourage intolerance and hatred.

Professor Javaid Rehman provided damning evidence on nationalised schools in Pakistan when he spoke at the second session of the APPG inquiry, which the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) so ably chaired. He said:

“I was just horrified to see what is being taught to our young children, for example this word ‘Kafir’ non-believer or infidel is openly said about Ahmadiyya but also about other communities, it’s part of our teaching system”.

I fear that the international aid provided to Pakistan by Her Majesty’s Government for the purpose of helping education is, on occasion, unwittingly fuelling hatred and prejudice in a new generation of Pakistanis. In order to ensure that that never happens again, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can provide assurances from the Dispatch Box on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government that UK aid and development funding will not go to groups, individuals or programmes that are engaged in the promotion of hate, whether that be directed against Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis or others.

I have briefly outlined the nature of some of the outrages suffered by Ahmadis and their Jamaat, but what effect does the persecution and discrimination of the Ahmadi community have on Ahmadis and on Pakistan itself? Thousands of Pakistanis have sought refuge in freedom-loving western nations. Even the global Ahmadiyya headquarters was moved to the United Kingdom in 1984. Others, having escaped from Pakistan, find themselves in third countries where they are unwelcome and face again the horrors of persecution, predicated upon their faith.

I urge Her Majesty’s Government to employ their influence and create a coalition of our friends and allies to pressure the Government of Pakistan to reverse the abhorrent constitutional vandalism that has been engineered on the freedom of religious belief, and to release all Pakistani citizens from the bondage of zealous tyranny and the fear of persecution.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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I congratulate the hon. Member on bringing this important issue into the public debate. He mentioned the large community who are established here, but will he also mention the huge contribution that they make in the United Kingdom particularly in charitable work and also in community work? Quite apart from their peaceful message, they play a very valuable and active role, working hard in the community.

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Imran Ahmad Khan Portrait Imran Ahmad Khan
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I think it is well known that the Ahmadi community—wherever they stay and live, whether they are persecuted or otherwise, whether they are abused or celebrated—always come to be among the vanguard of the most loyal citizens, playing a full role in the country that they call home.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
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My hon. Friend is being generous with his time. The UK has been a welcoming home for the Ahmadiyya community. Indeed, many have settled in my constituency because of its proximity to the Baitul Futuh mosque in the constituency of the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh). Does my hon. Friend agree that the UK needs to continue to play a leading role in providing refuge and a safe haven for Ahmadis fleeing persecution across the world?

Imran Ahmad Khan Portrait Imran Ahmad Khan
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. For Ahmadis and so many others, the United Kingdom has long been a beacon of hope and safety, and we should continue to provide this support and offer Ahmadis escaping religious persecution a route to safety. Sadly, Pakistan is not a lone perpetrator in the persecution of Ahmadis. There are many countries that maintain and enforce discriminatory laws against Ahmadis. The United Kingdom is a staunch friend of Pakistan. Ending the persecution of Ahmadis will serve to strengthen Pakistan and allow all those who truly love it to be active participants in their country’s life and future, fulfilling the dream of Pakistan’s founder, Quaid-i-Azam, who famously said the following words at the very moment of Pakistan’s birth:

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan.”

As my hon. Friend the Minister is aware, there are a number of powerful tools at our disposal that I urge him to employ to serve all the citizens of Pakistan, irrespective of their belief. The first is the establishment of a structured engagement at a senior level by the Foreign Office with Pakistan on the persecution and discrimination facing the Ahmadi Jamaat. The second is the employment of the Magnitsky-style sanctions established earlier in the year against preachers, politicians and others who incite and orchestrate violence and hatred against minorities, and the refusal of their entry into our country. The third is that the establishment of criteria when it comes to the protection and freedoms of all to live, work and worship as they choose in Pakistan should be tied to any future trade that Pakistan seeks with the United Kingdom.

I will be listening intently to my hon. Friend’s response as to whether Her Majesty’s Government are willing to consider employing such measures in the name of universal freedom and justice for all. In helping Pakistan to right the wrongs of persecution against Ahmadis, minorities such as Christians and Hindus, who also suffer great persecution and wrongs against them, will be protected. If we are to realise the vision of global Britain, we must be the ones to lead in defence of those innocents persecuted wherever they may dwell, and to champion and encourage others to follow suit.

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Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
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My hon. Friend, who is a long-time champion on issues of freedom of religion and belief, raises an incredible point. We see that issue in other parts of the world too, including with the Rohingya population in Myanmar. I struggle to see how any election could be called free and fair when large sections of society are denied the opportunity to participate.

Imran Ahmad Khan Portrait Imran Ahmad Khan
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Following on from the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), what consideration will be given to the point that I made about establishing structured engagement at a senior level between Pakistan and Her Majesty’s Government? I imagine that it may not be particularly popular with our high commission in Islamabad, but it may produce some good outcomes and enable us to discuss things issue by issue and find some common ground in a structured way. Will the Minister undertake to give it thorough consideration?

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
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I thank my hon. Friend for bringing this debate to the House, and I can assure him that we will obviously continue to stand up for the rights of all religious communities, including the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, around the world. We will protect our communities here in the UK from hatred and discrimination. My colleague Lord Ahmad, who I understand is an Ahmadiyya Muslim, continues to raise this issue at the highest level with Pakistani Government officials.

It is without question that the Government will continue to defend the right to freedom of religion and belief for everyone, everywhere.

Question put and agreed to.

Hong Kong

Imran Ahmad Khan Excerpts
Thursday 12th November 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
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It is a very generous offer that we have laid out to British national overseas citizens. We will expect them to be self-sufficient and contribute to UK society. We look forward to welcoming those applications. As I have said, the new route that the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary have hammered out is compelling and compassionate, particularly, as the hon. Gentleman will welcome, with regard to applications that are made as a family unit. We will use discretion in issuing a grant to children of BNO status holders who fall into this category.

Imran Ahmad Khan Portrait Imran Ahmad Khan (Wakefield) (Con)
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The United Kingdom, a stalwart champion of democracy, pluralism and liberty, has demonstrated its purpose to defend those values with all available tools, including Magnitsky-style sanctions. The disqualification of four Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers from the Legislative Council is another case in an ever-growing list of intrusions by the Chinese Communist party into the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong. Will my hon. Friend outline what efforts the Government are making to ensure a co-ordinated approach among our international partners to the crisis in Hong Kong and ensure that the Chinese Communist party is held responsible for its violations of both its international treaty obligations and fundamental human rights?

Nigel Adams Portrait Nigel Adams
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I thank my hon. Friend for his question and his continued leading voice on these matters. We are focused on giving voice to the widespread international concerns, basically in order to protect Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms. As I have said, the increasing number of countries supporting joint statements in the UN’s various human rights bodies underscores, we believe, the success of our approach. There are elections next September, and there not being an effective Opposition voice in them when half of the Legislative Council is appointed does make a bit of a mockery of the situation. We will continue, however, to call on China to uphold the contents of the joint declaration and, most importantly, live up to its responsibilities.