St. Matthew's Catholic Cathedral near the Sudanese capital Khartoum. Photograph: Getty Images.
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We must stand up for Meriam Ibrahim and other persecuted Christians

The government must speak out firmly against her barbaric sentence and call on the Sudanese government to revoke it.

The plight of Meriam Ibrahim has outraged and shocked people across the world. Sentenced to death by hanging in Sudan simply for being a Christian, 27-year-old Meriam is a prisoner of conscience who has been specifically persecuted because of her faith.

Amnesty International has rightly described her sentence as "appalling and abhorrent" and their online petition calling for her release has already reached 154,000 signatures. Not only is her sentence abhorrent, but she has also been forced to suffer cruelty at the hands of the Sudanese authorities during her detention in jail.

Her current conditions in Omdurman prison near Khartoum are desperate. She is reported to have spent the past five months chained to the floor of her cell. Reports that she was shackled whilst giving birth this week show that her treatment, and the treatment of her young innocent children, has been both inhuman and cruel. Human Rights Watch claims the prison is "beset with overcrowding' and suffers from 'poor sanitation, disease and the deaths of many children living with their mothers."

Merian's plight is just one of a growing number of cases around the world of Christians being persecuted for their faith. She was raised as a Christian by her mother, and refuses to renounce her religion despite the offer from the Sudanese courts to withdraw her sentence if she does. It is vital that at these moments - when the world's attention is focused on such victims of persecution - politicians are not afraid to speak up and speak out against such attacks on innocent people because of their religious beliefs.

The Labour Party has asked British ministers to apply pressure to the Sudanese government to try and ensure her release, and it is vital that the UK government continue to speak out firmly against her barbaric sentence and to call on the Sudanese government to revoke it. The British government will continue have our full support in their efforts resolve this matter, and in speaking out more vocally on the issue of Christian persecution.

Indeed, this year the UK assumed its place on the UN Human Rights Council, and as part of that body the UK government now has a unique and timely opportunity to use this platform to speak up for religious freedom as a fundamental human right and speak out against the persecution of Christians worldwide.

Merian's case is a reminder of how significant a struggle this is, and just how urgent a task.

Douglas Alexander is the shadow foreign secretary and Labour MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South.

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Tony Blair suggests second EU referendum: "Remain voters are not an elite"

The former Labour PM said the facts of Brexit may change minds. 

Tony Blair has floated the idea of a second EU referendum after the terms of the Brexit deal has become clear.

The former Labour Prime Minister told the BBC "you can't just dimiss the 16m people" who voted Remain.

He said: "If it becomes clear that this is either a deal that doesn't make it worth our while leaving, or alternatively a deal that's going to be so serious in its implications people may decide they don't want to go, there's got to be some way, either through Parliament, or an election, or possibly through another referendum, in which people express their view."

Asked whether he was telling the 17m voters who wanted to leave the EU that they were wrong, he said: "You can't just dismiss the 16m people either and say their views are of no account. 

"And by the way, that 16m don't represent an elite, they represent people who genuinely believe that in the 21st century for Britain to leave the biggest political union and the biggest commercial market right on our doorstep is a serious mistake."

There is no way the Brexit decision can be reversed "unless it becomes clear that once people see the facts they change their mind," he said.

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.