Government restrictions of religious freedom, highest in a decade

A Pew Research analysis combines data of a dozen of trusted sources. It concludes that “most of the 56 countries with high or very high levels of government restrictions on religion are in the Asia-Pacific region or the Middle East-North Africa region”.

Evangelical Focus

Pew Research · WASHINGTON D.C. · 13 NOVEMBER 2020 · 16:30 CET

Two girls praying in Bangladesh. / <a target="_blank" href="">Puertas Abiertas España </a>,
Two girls praying in Bangladesh. / Puertas Abiertas España

A new report published by the Pew Research Center concludes that “the global median level of government restrictions on religion – that is, laws, policies and actions by officials that impinge on religious beliefs and practices – continued to climb”.

The fact tank based in the US says these restrictions reached in 2018 “an all-time high since Pew Research Center began tracking these trends in 2007”.

The highest levels of government restrictions “among the most populous countries occurred in China, Iran, Russia, Indonesia and Egypt, all of which rank in the ‘very high’ category of restrictions”, the report says.

Government restrictions on religion, by region

In Russia, for example, “the government continued targeting “nontraditional” religious groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, who were formally banned in 2017”.

The countries where government restrictions on religious freedom are lowest were Japan, Brazil, South Africa, the Philippines, and South Korea.


Social hostilities

The Pew Research report also looked at the social hostilities involving religion. These “declined slightly, as the number of countries in which “high or very high levels of social hostilities involving religion also declined slightly from 56 (28% of all 198 countries and territories in the study) to 53”.

Nonetheless, the report underlines that “16 European countries (36% of all countries in Europe)” are included in this category.

“The most populous countries with the highest levels of social hostilities involving religion were India, Nigeria, Egypt, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the same five countries as in 2017”.

In contrast, “Japan, China, Vietnam, Iran and the United States had the lowest levels of social hostilities among the world’s 25 most populous countries”.

Again, the European continent is presented as a continent where there is much social pressure on faith groups. “The five countries categorized as full democracies with high levels of social hostilities are all in Europe – Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom – and all had reports of anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents”, the Pew analysis says..

Restrictions on religion among the world's 25 most populous countries

Harassment of Christians

People who identify with Christianity and Islam are the most harassed worldwide. “This pattern has remained consistent since the study began in 2007. Christians and Muslims are the two largest religious groups in the world and are more geographically dispersed than smaller groups”

Where are Christians most persecuted? “The Middle East-North Africa region had the largest share of countries where Christians were harassed in 2018. Of the 20 countries in the region, 19 had some form of harassment targeting Christians (either by governments or social groups)”, the report says.

In these regions, “social harassment occurred in 15 countries, the highest share (75%) since the beginning of the study in 2017”.

Christians reportedly were harassed by governments or social groups in 80% of countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

Government restrictions of religious freedom, highest in a decade

Source: Pew Research Center

In Europe, Christians (including minority Christian sects) were harassed in about three-quarters of countries (76%), while in sub-Saharan Africa, Christians faced harassment in two-thirds of countries (67%). In the Americas, harassment of Christians dropped in 2018, from 21 countries to 20.

Read the full Pew Research Centre report published in November 2020 here.

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