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Widdecombe to call for more to be done about Christian persecution as well as gay rights

By Joseph Willits 
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Screen shot 2011-10-21 at 19.03.16In a speech tomorrow, Ann Widdecombe is set to criticise David Cameron, and put pressure on both him and William Hague over the persecution of Christians. Speaking at the annual conference of international charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Widdecombe will accuse the Government of double standards in promoting the cause of gay rights, whilst "turning a blind eye" to the plight of Christians.

Widdecombe will admit that it is "fair enough" to slash aid to countries in Africa with homophobic laws and policies, but will ask:

"What about Christians? When do we qualify for such protection or don't we? You stand a better chance of earnest representation if you are a hedgehog - and I speak as a patron of the Hedgehog Protection Society. Today we should all begin to act. Each of us should pick one country, pray for it, donate to the Church there, write to William Hague and the local MP"

In comments to the Telegraph, Widdecombe  said that "on the whole we do very little and what I am trying to do is raise the profile" describing it as "extraordinary" that the distribution of aid to countries could be determined by the treatment of specific groups, and not others. "Why on earth", Widdecombe asks, "are we not putting religious freedom in as an equal to homosexuality?".

Most recently, the highest profiled case of Christian persecution has been that of the Copts in Egypt. 25 people were killed in clashes earlier this months, mostly from Egypt's Coptic company, after an attack on a church. Many Egyptians accused Egypt's military council (SCAF) of preying and exploiting on social and religious instability, with some accusing the army of playing an active role in the clashes. Cranmer's blog parodied the event, swapping "Christian" and "homosexual" claiming it would be "something of a relief to International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell, and ... the whole of HM Government" because "the life of a homosexual is of infinitely more worth than the life of a Christian". 

Widdecombe's comments come during the run up to the annual Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth, Australia next week. Already, Kevin Rudd, Australia's foreign, Kevin Rudd has promised to urge Commonwealth countries to repeal their anti-gay laws. Rudd's spokeswoman said: "Australia encourages all countries to decriminalise homosexuality by removing all laws imposing criminal penalties for homosexual conduct."

The issue has also drawn comment from the former President of Botswana, Festus Mogae, who has stressed the criminalisation of homosexuality is doing nothing to stop the spread of HIV/AIDs in the country. 17% in Botswana are HIV positive.

Today in a letter to William Hague, gay rights activist Peter Tatchell has also pressured the Government to stop "neglecting" the issue of gay rights in the Commonwealth. Tatchell wrote: 

"More than 40 Commonwealth countries currently criminalise homosexuality, mostly as a result of laws that were imposed by Britain during the colonial era and which were not repealed when these nations won their independence".

In response to Tacthell's letter, the Foreign Office has promised to "raise LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] issues at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Perth and push for their inclusion in the final communiqué".


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