New study finds increase in religious restrictions by world governments

    The sharpest rise was seen in actions taken against Christians and Muslims.

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    According to a new report from Pew Research Center, 2016 saw an increase in restrictions on religion, the world over. Of the 198 countries examined by the study, 83 of them (42%) were found to have “high” or “very high” levels of overall restrictions of religion. That’s up from 40% in 2015 and just 29% in 2007, the baseline year of the study.

    While the percentage of governments imposing restrictions on religion has increased, the amount of countries with “high” or “very high” levels of social hostilities remained practically the same, at 27%, with a slight decline in the social hostilities median score (a 10 point scale based on 13 indicators) from 2.0 to 1.8.

    Pew explained that many of the countries studied imposed restrictions based on actions taken by government officials, social groups, and nationalistic parties:

    Typically, these nationalist groups or individuals were seeking to curtail immigration of religious and ethnic minorities, or were calling for efforts to suppress or even eliminate a particular religious group, in the name of defending a dominant ethnic or religious group they described as threatened or under attack.

    They cite the Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party, from the Netherlands, which adopted a “de-Islamization” platform in 2016. They called for barring asylum seekers from Islamic countries, prohibiting Muslim women from wearing headscarves in public, closing all mosques and banning the Quran.

    Nationalist parties were more active in 2016 –11% of governments were found to have individual political parties or officials that aimed nationalistic rhetoric at religious groups. This is up from 6% in 2015. This was seen especially in Europe, where 33% of countries had nationalist parties that made political statements against religious minorities, an increase from 20% of countries in 2015.

    Overall Muslims were the most common target for nationalist groups which seek to “dominate public life” in 2016. This is especially apparent in Europe, where 20 out of 25 countries with such nationalist groups targeted Muslims. Muslims were not, however, the only religious group targeted as Jews and Christians appeared on the list in countries where they were minorities.

    While European countries tended to target Muslim communities, India saw a rise in the harassment, and in some cases killing, of those involved in the slaughter of cows and those who ate beef. In Peru, nationalistic movements have led the government to prohibit Jehovah’s Witnesses from proselytizing.

    Many of the 42% of countries with “high” or “very high” levels of government restrictions are the worlds most populous (China and India). This means that the majority of the world’s population — 83% — were living under religious restrictions. Pew notes, however, that since each country imposes their own restrictions, the amount of people affected by them is significantly lower than 83%.

    Of the 25 most populous countries Egypt, Russia, India, Indonesia and Turkey were found to have the highest overall restrictions and hostilities in 2016. Of religious groups, the sharpest rise in harassment was seen towards Christians and Muslims.

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