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Ian Paisley under fire for advocacy on behalf of anti-Christian governments

Ian Paisley holidayed in Sri Lanka and the Maldives ­– two countries with a reputation for intolerance of Christianity. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire

IAN Paisley has been criticised for lobbying on behalf of governments with some of the world's worst records for Christian persecution.

The North Antrim MP was suspended from Westminster in July for failing to register a luxury family holiday in Sri Lanka – a country whose government's has a poor human rights record and a history of persecuting Christians. The DUP MP later carried out paid advocacy on behalf of its regime.

However, it is his recently revealed trip to the Maldives, a Muslim country which ranks among the worst for its intolerance of other faiths, that has fuelled most outrage.

Mr Paisley and his family travelled to the Maldives in 2016 months after the MP had visited the island on parliamentary business. He had argued against economic sanctions being taken against the Maldives over alleged human rights abuses.

He has denied the holiday was paid for by the authorities in the south Asian island nation and said he was satisfied he did not need to declare the trip on Westminster's register of interests.

According to Open Doors, an international campaign group highlighting the persecution of Christians worldwide, the Maldives ranks as the "13th hardest place in the world to live as a Christian".

"Radical Islamic clerics exert strong control, making it impossible for converts to show their faith in any way," the Open Doors website states.

"Migrant Christians (from India and Sri Lanka) are strictly monitored, too – reportedly, most have ceased meeting, since it was drawing too much attention from the authorities."

The DUP has been vocal in highlighting the persecution of Christians globally.

SDLP MLA John Dallat accused Mr Paisley of "double standards" for willingly accepting luxury holidays from regimes with an "abhorrent record of Christian persecution".

"Not so long ago Mr Paisley was quoting Old Testament prophets in the House of Commons after his holidays gifted by the Sri Lankan government entered the public domain – for me, this highlights the shocking double standards of the North Antrim MP," the East Derry MLA said.

“The SDLP have requested that the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards fully investigate allegations of Mr Paisley's trips gifted by foreign governments to ensure public confidence is restored.”

Sinn Féin MLA Philip McGuigan said the Sri Lankan regime's human rights record should have been the focus of the scandal for which the MP was suspended.

“Much of the attention centred around his failure to declare two lavish family holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government," he said.

“But for Sinn Féin, the bigger issue has always been the fact that Ian Paisley actively lobbied the British prime minister to oppose a United Nations resolution to establish an international investigation into the human rights abuses in Sri Lanka."

Academic Peter Shirlow raised questions about the contradictions between Mr Paisley's professed faith and his decision to accept hospitality from governments with a record of persecuting his co-religionists.

"This is a man who says he is opposed to homosexuality and gay marriage because he is a Christian yet he appears to have few qualms about choosing holiday destinations where Christians are persecuted," the University of Liverpool lecturer said.

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