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UK government appoints first special envoy for religious freedom

Lord Tariq Ahmad (far right), pictured in 2016 alongside British Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond (centre) and London City Airport CEO Declan Collier. (Getty Images)

A British Muslim politician and businessman has been appointed as the UK’s first Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon is to be the new Special Envoy.

The British government declared that the role “will promote the UK’s firm stance on religious tolerance abroad, helping to tackle religious discrimination in countries where minority faith groups face persecution”.

Lord Ahmad, who is also Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the UN at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, said: “People from all faiths or none should be free to practise as they wish. This respect is key to global stability, and is in all our interests.”

“In too many parts of the world, religious minorities are persecuted, discriminated against and treated as second-class citizens. As a man of faith, I feel this very keenly.”

Prime Minister Theresa May said: “Both here and abroad, individuals are being denied the basic right of being able to practise their faith free of fear.

“I look forward to supporting him in this new role as he works with faith groups and governments across the world to raise understanding of religious persecution and what we can do to eliminate it.”

Lord Ahmad was made a Conservative life peer in 2011. After the 2015 General Election, he was appointed jointly as Minister for Skills and Aviation Security at the Department for Transport, and Minister for Countering Extremism at the Home Office. In 2016, he was appointed Minister for Aviation, International Trade and Europe at the Department for Transport.

The title of special envoy has been used on an ad hoc basis by various nations. Under the terms of the Congress of Vienna of 1815, an envoy is a diplomat ranking between an Ambassador and a Minister Resident.

Open Doors UK, a charity which supports persecuted Christians overseas, tweeted: “This is a real step forward for those around the world who are facing persecution on the basis of their faith.”