A new freedom of religion initiative to encourage Commonwealth parliamentarians to speak out about the issue will launch on 1 October in the UK.

The Commonwealth Initiative for the Freedom of Religion or Belief (CIFORB) will be based at the University of Birmingham’s Edward Cadbury Centre for the Public Understanding of Religion, and in Westminster. It will provide research and training and establish a Commonwealth Commission of Inquiry to work in ‘strategically-significant nations’ helping parliamentarians find opportunities to speak out.

The CIFORB team will be led by UK peer, Baroness Berridge, a religious freedom advocate, who will work alongside university academics from Birmingham, Oxford and Bristol.

Two of the 53 members of the Commonwealth – Pakistan and Nigeria – are listed in Open Doors’ top 10 places in the world where Christians face the worst persecution.  The Commonwealth, which is mostly made up of states that were territories of the former British Empire, has a stated commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

The announcement comes shortly after the White House appointment of Knox Thames as US Special Envoy for religious minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia.