Editorial: Freedom to report the persecution of Christians threatened

The freedom to report both incidents of anti-Christian persecution and the ideology motivating such attacks is central to what Barnabas Fund and other organisations have done for many years. Yet those freedoms are now under threat, particularly in the UK, but also in other Western countries. This is a three-pronged attack.

First, although the press has been free from government regulation since 1694, there is now a serious possibility that the government will require all media outlets with multiple writers to sign up to a state sponsored press regulator. If they do not, in the event that they are sued, they will have to pay both their own and the complainant’s legal costs, even if they win. In other words, they could be quickly bankrupted. To make matters worse, several senior figures of this new regulator, including its CEO, are reported to be strong supporters of a campaign to stop major brands advertising with the Daily Express and Daily Mail because of their alleged negative portrayal of religious minorities. In fact, these two newspapers have repeatedly spoken out against Islamism and the persecution of Christians in Islamic countries – it was the Sunday Express front page, closely followed by the Daily Mail, that published the story Barnabas Fund first broke of archbishops from Syria and Iraq being denied UK visit visas to attend the consecration of the UK’s first Syriac Orthodox cathedral.

The second threat (as Barnabas Fund reported last summer) comes from an agreement between the EU and Internet companies such as Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter to take down any internet posts within 24 hours if what were termed “civil society” groups claimed they constituted “hate speech”. This effectively allowed lobby groups, including Islamists, to censor opinions they disagreed with by getting their members to mass report them. At the time the National Secular Society raised concerns that Facebook were censoring “atheist, secular and ex-Muslim content” after false “mass reporting” by “cyber Jihadists”.

The third threat comes from hate crime legislation. In addition to investigating “hate crimes”, which are criminal offences, police are also required to record “hate incidents”. The Association of Chief Police Officers and the Crown Prosecution Service have told the police to investigate all “hate incidents” – stating that these are where any person claims that any action or words by anyone else were motivated by prejudice, even if they do not constitute a crime:

“A Hate Incident is any incident which the victim, or anyone else, thinks is based on someone’s prejudice towards them because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or because they are transgender.”

In other words, it is an “opinion” reported to the police by anyone, however unconnected with the event, that some words or actions were allegedly motivated by prejudice, even though it was not a crime. Moreover, the person alleged to have said them cannot prevent the police logging it as a “hate incident”. That is a blank cheque for Islamists to weaponise “hate speech” to censor any articles critical of Islam. Indeed, as we reported last week, Barnabas Fund recently told a government Select Committee that this misuse of hate speech laws potentially inhibits us from speaking about some of the main causes of anti-Christian persecution, including the treatment of Christians stipulated by sharia. 

A fortnight ago, the irony of this bizarre situation came to light when it was revealed that police recorded a “hate incident” against Amber Rudd, the British Home Secretary, after someone complained about a speech she made at her party’s annual conference in October. The person who complained later admitted that they had not even heard the speech, yet the police were still required to record it as a non-crime “hate incident”.