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Article 18

Article 18 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

I’ve been reading this (and the rest of the Bill) because I’ve been writing to my local MP (Bridget Prentice, Lewisham East) asking for her to call on the government to take a strong stand in the case of Abdul Rahman, an Afghani Christian who is facing execution for refusing to reconvert to Islam. Here’s the body of my email to her:

Over the past few days I’ve been reading with concern about the plight of Abdul Rahman, an Afghani Christian who is facing possible execution for having the courage of his convictions and refusing to reconvert to Islam:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/4841334.stm

I have noticed that several western democracies have voiced disapproval of this blatant violation of basic human rights but haven’t found a note of the UK’s contribution to this. As one of your constituents, I ask that you express this concern to the relevant bodies of our government. I would appreciate being notified of where I can keep up to date about what we are saying on this issue.

I hope that the UK, with our tradition of human rights advocacy, would be voicing strong support for President Hamid Karzai to take a stand for the rights of the individual to live according to their peaceful convictions rather than being murdered or forced to kowtow to a militant form of Islam.

The case particularly touches on article 18 of the UN bill of human rights (“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion…”) but clearly impinges on many of the other articles as well. I believe it is important for the UK to take a clear stand on this because of our involvement in that area of the world (including the funding we are sending that way) and also as a message to our own society about the value we place on freedom of belief for Christians, Muslims, Atheists and every other creed, whether religiously formulated or otherwise.

Sadly, this kind of case is far from unique and Afghanistan is not the only place where having peaceful beliefs different from the incumbent regime is a capital crime. However, Mr Rahman’s name stands out this week as one that has become a relatively major UK news story. What I haven’t found yet is a note of what our government is saying about it. I hope that our political leaders will take a stand and that Mr Rahman is protected from murder, either judicial or mob violence. I also hope that this story being in the news (and spreading across many blogs around the world) will play a part in applying fundamental human rights in the numerous other similar stories that are happening in other places at the moment (and may Western nations also get their own houses in order as this brings related issues into focus).

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