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Widdecombe tells Cameron: Christians deserve same protection as gay people

Widdecombe: 'Hedgehogs are better represented in Parliament than Christians' (PA photo)

On Saturday Ann Widdecombe is expected to accuse the Government of double standards in its threats to cut aid to countries which persecute gay people while turning a blind eye to persecution against Christians.

In a speech in central London, the former Conservative minister will contrast the British Government’s overseas aid policy with a more cautious stance on state-sponsored violence and intimidation against Christians.

In an address at the annual conference of Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Miss Widdecombe is expected to say: “David Cameron’s government have threatened to cut the overseas aid budget for countries which persecute homosexuals.

“Fair enough. But what about Christians? When do we qualify for such protection or don’t we?”

Miss Widdecombe will say Britain’s overseas aid budget should “take into account” a country’s record on religious freedom.

Miss Widdecombe, who converted to Catholicism in 1993, makes her comments after Church leaders in Egypt last week accused the regime of “using” a “rabble army” in an unprovoked attack which left 25 people dead – most of them Copts – and 329 injured.

In Pakistan, where British aid is on course to double to £350 million per year, Christian labourer Asia Bibi is on death row for blasphemy in a case that has attracted international outrage.

Meanwhile, International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell has cut Britain’s aid to Malawi after two gay men were sentenced to 14 years hard labour.

According to newspaper reports, the Government has threatened to cut aid to other poor African countries accused of persecuting gays.

In her speech in Westminster Cathedral Hall, Miss Widdecombe will accuse the Government of indifference to the rights of Christians.

Ann Widdecombe, who in March became ACN’s special envoy to religious freedom, will say: “You stand a better chance of earnest representation if you are a hedgehog – and I speak as a patron of the Hedgehog Protection Society.

“In the last 10 years, how many debates have there been on persecution of Christians, how many Government statements on the subject?”

Her comments come after Aid to the Church in Need gave statistics in its report on Christian persecution showing that 75 per cent of all religious persecution was directed against Christians.

Other research shows that 105,000 Christians are killed every year for faith-related reasons.

In her speech, Miss Widdecombe will appeal to the public to call on the Government to make defence of religious freedom a foreign policy priority.

She will say: “Today we should all begin to act. Each of us should pick one country, pray for it, donate to the Church there, write to [UK Foreign Secretary] William Hague and the local MP.

“We should make it our business to follow reports about persecuted Christians – especially through the work of Aid to the Church in Need.”

Neville Kyrke-Smith, British director of Aid to the Church in Need, said: “The persecution of Christians is a critical issue which we will be addressing on Saturday in a series of talks. It is a sell-out event – which must stimulate debate and action.”

Mr Kyrke-Smith is among the other speakers at the conference which will also be addressed by John Pontifex, ACN UK Head of Press and Information, and Mgr Robert Stern, who has just retired as chief of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

Taking as its theme “The Arab Spring: A Spring or Autumn for Christians?”, the conference will address the problem of sustaining the Christian presence in a region where churchgoers are emigrating en masse.

In Iraq, the Christian population is understood to have plummeted from 1.4 million to barely 150,000.

The Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organisations published a report last month claiming that since the fall of President Mubarak in February more than 100,000 Christians had fled the country following an upsurge of violence and intimidation against religious minorities.