Pew Global Study: Religious Freedom in Decline Throughout the World

 The Pew Research Centre’s Forum on Religion and Public Life said government restrictions and public hostility involving religion grew in some of the most populous countries from mid-2006 to mid-2009. 

Muslims and Christians, the world’s two largest religious groups, were harassed in the most countries. Other religions also saw harassment. Jews, who make up less than 1 per cent of the world’s population, saw restrictions or harassment in 75 countries. 

The new study scored 198 countries and territories — more than 99.5 percent of the world’s population — on a total of 33 measures phrased as questions about government restrictionsand social hostilities. The study uses 18 widely cited, publicly available sources of information, including reports by the United Nations, the US State Department and Human Rights Watch. 

The study looked at laws or other government policies aimed to ban particular faiths, limit preaching, give preference to particular religions or prohibit conversions. To measure hostility, it looked at sectarian violence, harassment over religious attire and other types of intimidation. 

“Over the three-year period studied, incidents of either government or social harassment were reported against Christians in 130 countries (66 percent) and against Muslims in 117 countries (59 percent),” according to the report Rising Restrictions on Religion. 

“During the three-year period covered by the study, the extent of violence and abuse related to religion increased in more places than it decreased,” the study also said. 

Only about 1 per cent of the world lives in countries that saw more religious tolerance during those years, it said. 

The Pew Centre review of 198 countries found those deemed restrictive or hostile in the previous report were growing even more so, while those with more religious tolerance were losing tolerance. 

A substantial rise in public hostility towards religious groups was seen in China, Nigeria, Thailand, Vietnam and Britain, while government restrictions rose substantially in Egypt and France. 

Egypt, under now-deposed Hosni Mubarak, stood out, earning itself a ranking in the top five percent of all countries in 2009 for government-imposed restrictions such as a long-standing ban on the Muslim Brotherhood, and for social hostilities based on religion, against both Muslims and Christians. 

The countries most restrictive or hostile towards certain religions included India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, Iran, China, Myanmar, Russia, Turkey, Vietnam, Nigeria and Bangladesh – although most of these did not show much change in the three years. 

People were killed, physically abused, detained, imprisoned, displaced from their homes, or had their property destroyed for religious reasons by governments in 101 countries in the year ending mid-2009, compared to 91 a year earlier, the report said. Such violence rose in more countries than it declined over the three years. 

Mob violence involving religion occurred in 52 countries as of mid-2009, compared to 38 a year earlier. Religious hatred or bias led to violence by private citizens groups in 142 countries, nearly three-quarters of the 198 included in the study, and about the same as of mid- 2008. 

“Religion-related terrorist groups were active in 74 countries,” and violence was seen in half of these, in the year through mid-2009, the Pew Centre said. 

In five European countries – Britain, Denmark, Russia, Sweden and Bulgaria – religious tension focused on the rapidly growing Muslim population, but there was also rising anti-Semitism and antagonism towards minorities such as Jehovah’s Witnesses. 

The study found that government restrictions on religion increased substantially in two European countries, France and Serbia. 

In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a major speech on national identity in 2009 that the Muslim head-to-toe covering, the burka, had no place in French society, and lawmakers began discussing whether women should be allowed to wear it. 

The Serbian government, meanwhile, refused to legally register evangelical Protestant groups and other minority religions, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which deprived them of the right to air programs on public media. 


“Report shows rise in world restrictions on religion” The Jordan Times August 10, 2011 

Karin Zeitvogel, “Religious violence, abuse growing: world study” AFP August 10, 2011 

“Pew study: Restrictions on religion steadily increase across globe” Today’s Zaman August 10, 2011