UK's 'anti-Christian' foreign policy must change, says cardinal

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The leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland today accused the British government of pursuing an "anti-Christian" foreign policy by increasing its overseas aid to Pakistan.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien said government plans to double aid to the country to more than 445 million did not require any commitment to religious freedom for Christians.

The cardinal said that conditions should be attached to any aid payments, requiring a definite commitment to protection for Christians and other religious minorities - including Shia Muslims.

Speaking at the launch of a report into the persecution of Christians worldwide, Cardinal O'Brien said: "I urge (UK Foreign Secretary] William Hague to obtain guarantees from foreign governments before they are given aid.

"To increase aid to the Pakistan government when religious freedom is not upheld and those who speak up for religious freedom are gunned down is tantamount to an anti-Christian foreign policy.

"Pressure should now be put on the government of Pakistan - and the governments of the Arab world as well - to ensure that religious freedom is upheld, the provision of aid must require a commitment to human rights."

He said the report highlights the "huge surge" in Christians fleeing persecution worldwide, with 75 per cent of all religious persecution taking place against Christians.

He said: "This reality is both shocking and saddening. In countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, Christians face violence, intolerance and even death because of their beliefs.

"This is intolerable and unacceptable. Here in Scotland we value our freedoms, particularly the freedom of religion and the right to practice our faith free of persecution. Yet this detailed and at times harrowing report reminds us that not all of our fellow Christians enjoy such freedom to worship."

The report has been produced by Aid to the Church in Need, the Vatican-approved agency that has responsibility for persecuted Christians.

Earlier this month, the only Christian in the Pakistani government's cabinet, Shahbaz Bhatti, was shot dead in Islamabad.

He had spoken out against Pakistan's blasphemy laws.

The report also claimed some 100 million Christians around the world face persecution.

It said the Christian population in some countries is collapsing. In the past 25 years the Christian population of Iraq has gone from an estimated 1.4 million to as low as 150,000 now.

"I hope the evidence presented by Aid to the Church in Need will encourage us all to speak out for religious freedom at every opportunity and motivate us to support those who campaign for it," the cardinal added.

"We ask that the freedoms we enjoy to practice our faith, will soon be extended and that the tolerance we show to other faiths will be reciprocated."