Persecuted church support and advocacy organisation Open Doors UK has called on the Commonwealth heads of government to put freedom of religion and belief at the "heart of their discussions" when they meet this week.

The organisation points out that eight of the 53 Commonwealth nations appear on its latest World Watch List - which ranks the 50 nations where its hardest to be a Christian - are Commonwealth nations. The eight include Pakistan (the highest of the eight nations at number five), India (11), Nigeria (14), Malaysia (23), Brunei (26), Kenya (32), Bangladesh (41) and Sri Lanka (44). 

In comments made last week, Zoe Smith, head of advocacy at Open Doors UK, said the Commonwealth Heads of Government "will be unable to realise its agenda of securing a common future without explicitly including the right to freedom of religion or belief in its plans".

"We urge leaders of the Commonwealth to ensure that this fundamental human right is placed at the heart of discussions in London and that decisive measures are taken to ensure it is protected across all Commonwealth countries.”

The 25th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting kicks off today (16th April) and runs in London and Windsor until 20th April. The meetings are being conducted under the theme, Towards a common future.

Meanwhile, World Watch Monitor reports that the Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, Justin Welby, has invited politicians and religious leaders from Commonwealth nations to meetings at Lambeth Palace.

The meetings, co-organised with the Birmingham-based Commonwealth Initiative for Freedom of Religion and Belief, aim to explore how religious leaders and parliamentarians can hold their governments and constituencies to account in relation to religious freedom issues.

Archbishop Welby, who has made frequent trips to Nigeria, highlighted the persecution of Nigerian Christians in a meeting with the country’s President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday ahead of the start of the Commonwealth leaders’ summit on Monday.

In a statement the Archbishop said that he raised “the suffering resulting from Christian communities and villages as far south as Delta State,” and urged Mr Buhari to do “everything possible” to secure the release of Leah Sharibu, the 15-year-old still held by Boko Haram for refusing to convert to Islam.

During a debate in the House of Lords last month on the forthcoming summit, the Catholic crossbencher Lord Alton cited research from the US-based Pew Research Center that found that around 70 per cent of people living in Commonwealth nations “live with high or very high government restrictions on the right to freedom of religion and belief”.