The following may appear dated, but it is among some of the most recent information available. It reveals a disturbing yet predictable (it’s been prophesized) shift among the governments of the world towards religion — and specific restrictions, persecutions against Christianity, and a rising anti-Semitism worldwide.
The Islamic countries mentioned in the research below are highly restrictive, as in EVERY ISLAMIC COUNTRY has within their charter or constitution, depending on which form they use, that the ONLY recognized religion for that country is Islam. No other beliefs will be recognized. And those countries are extremely repressive against the growth of any faith other than Islam. With Christians being arrested, tortured, beaten, their homes seized, their wives and daughters raped, their young sons taken from them, and many Christians in those countries, though it isn’t reported in the information below, and you will NEVER HEAR ABOUT IT OR SEE IT ON ANY AMERICAN SO-CALLED NEWS (that religiously protects the telling of the truth with regard to Islam, or what really takes place in Islamic countries) the beatings, the hangings, the crucifixions, the beheading of Christians in these places.
Nor the goings-on within communist countries. Such as Communist China, Communist Cuba, Communist North Korea, Communist Vietnam, Communist Venezuela (where they call it socialism), but if we’re brutally honest? And we know our history? There isn’t any difference really. As communism has morphed as has socialism acquiring the taste for capitalism and material goods while never letting up on the tyranny, the oppression, the control, the torture, the no rights no liberties within every regime worldwide
Nor do you, will you ever hear so much as a clearing of the throat let alone actual facts with regard to Christian persecution and the severe restrictions on the Christian faith on your TV sets, on your radios, on mainstream Internet — nowhere to be heard or found. The sounds of silence. The wailing screams, the groans, and shouts of silence.
It’s deafening if we pause and listen…
Thursday, July 29th, 2021
ACP — A Crooked Path
In 2018, Government Restrictions on Religion Reach Highest Level Globally in More Than a Decade
November 10, 2020
From Pew Research Center
Reprinted from the Pew Research Center
In 2018, 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, reaching an all-time high since Pew Research Center began tracking these trends in 2007.
The year-over-year increase from 2017 to 2018 was relatively modest, but it contributed to a substantial rise in government restrictions on religion over more than a decade. In 2007, the first year of the study, the global median score on the Government Restrictions Index (a 10-point scale based on 20 indicators) was 1.8. After some fluctuation in the early years, the median score has risen steadily since 2011 and now stands at 2.9 for 2018, the most recent full year for which data is available.
The increase in government restrictions reflects a wide variety of events around the world, including a rise from 2017 to 2018 in the number of governments using force – such as detentions and physical abuse – to coerce religious groups.
The total number of countries with “high” or “very high” levels of government restrictions has been mounting as well. Most recently, that number climbed from 52 countries (26% of the 198 countries and territories included in the study) in 2017 to 56 countries (28%) in 2018. The latest figures are close to the 2012 peak in the top two tiers of the Government Restrictions Index.
As of 2018, most of the 56 countries with high or very high levels of government restrictions on religion are in the Asia-Pacific region (25 countries, or half of all countries in that region) or the Middle East-North Africa region (18 countries, or 90% of all countries in the region).
Out of the five regions examined in the study, the Middle East and North Africa continued to have the highest median level of government restrictions in 2018 (6.2 out of 10). However, Asia and the Pacific had the largest increase in its median government restrictions score, rising from 3.8 in 2017 to 4.4 in 2018, partly because a greater number of governments in the region used force against religious groups, including property damage, detention, displacement, abuse and killings.
In total, 31 out of 50 countries (62%) in Asia and the Pacific experienced government use of force related to religion, up from 26 countries (52%) in 2017. The increase was concentrated in the category of “low levels” of government use of force (between one and nine incidents during the year). In 2018, 10 Asia-Pacific countries fell into this category, up from five the previous year. (For a full list of countries in the Asia-Pacific region, see Appendix C.)
In Armenia, for example, a prominent member of the Baha’i faith was detained on religious grounds, according to members of the community.1 And in the Philippines, three United Methodist Church missionaries were forced to leave the country or faced issues with visa renewals after they were involved in investigating human rights violations on a fact-finding mission.2
But the region also saw several instances of widespread use of government force against religious groups. In Burma (Myanmar), large-scale displacement of religious minorities continued. During the course of the year, more than 14,500 Rohingya Muslims were reported by Human Rights Watch to have fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape abuses, and at least 4,500 Rohingya were stuck in a border area known as “no-man’s land,” where they were harassed by Burmese officials trying to get them to cross to Bangladesh.3 In addition, fighting between the Burmese military and armed ethnic organizations in the states of Kachin and Shan led to the displacement of other religious minorities, mostly Christians.4
Meanwhile, in Uzbekistan, it is estimated that at least 1,500 Muslim religious prisoners remained in prison on charges of religious extremism or membership in banned groups.5
Some countries in the Asia-Pacific region saw all-time highs in their overall government restrictions scores. This includes China, which continued to have the highest score on the Government Restrictions Index (GRI) out of all 198 countries and territories in the study. China has been near the top of the list of most restrictive governments in each year since the inception of the study, and in 2018 it reached a new peak in its score (9.3 out of 10).
The Chinese government restricts religion in a variety of ways, including banning entire religious groups (such as the Falun Gong movement and several Christian groups), prohibiting certain religious practices, raiding places of worship and detaining and torturing individuals.6 In 2018, the government continued a detention campaign against Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs and other Muslims in Xinjiang province, holding at least 800,000 (and possibly up to 2 million) in detention facilities “designed to erase religious and ethnic identities,” according to the U.S. State Department.7
Tajikistan also stands out with a GRI score of 7.9, an all-time high for that country. In 2018, the Tajik government amended its religion law, increasing control over religious education domestically and over those who travel abroad for religious education. The amendment also requires religious groups to report their activities to authorities and requires state approval for appointing imams. Throughout the year, the Tajik government continued to deny minority religious groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, official recognition. In January, Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that more than a dozen members were interrogated by police and pressured to renounce their faith.8
While these are examples of countries with “very high” government restrictions on religion in Asia and the Pacific, there also are several notable countries in the “high” category that experienced an increase in their scores. India, for example, reached a new peak in its GRI score in 2018, scoring 5.9 out of 10 on the index, while Thailand also experienced an all-time high (5.4).
In India, anti-conversion laws affected minority religious groups. For example, in the state of Uttar Pradesh in September, police charged 271 Christians with attempting to convert people by drugging them and “spreading lies about Hinduism.” Furthermore, throughout the year, politicians made comments targeting religious minorities. In December, the Shiv Sena Party, which holds seats in parliament, published an editorial calling for measures such as mandatory family planning for Muslims to limit their population growth. And law enforcement officials were involved in cases against religious minorities: In Jammu and Kashmir, four police personnel, among others, were arrested in connection with the kidnapping, rape and killing of an 8-year-old girl from a nomadic Muslim family, reportedly to push her community out of the area.9
In Thailand, as part of broader immigration raids in 2018, the government arrested hundreds of immigrants who allegedly did not have legal status, including religious minorities from other countries who were seeking asylum or refugee status. Among the detainees were Christians and Ahmadi Muslims from Pakistan as well as Christian Montagnards from Vietnam. During the year, Thai authorities also detained six leading Buddhist monks, a move that the government said was an effort to curb corruption but that some observers called a politically motivated attempt to assert control over temples.10
Government restrictions on religion in other regions
While Asia and the Pacific had the largest increases in their Government Restrictions Index scores, the Middle East and North Africa still had the highest median level of government restrictions, with a score of 6.2 on the GRI – up from 6.0 in 2017, more than double the global median (2.9), and at its highest point since the aftermath of the Arab Spring in 2012.
As in Asia, the rise in GRI scores in the Middle East and North Africa was partly due to more governments using force against religious groups. All but one country in the region had reports of government use of force related to religion in 2018, although many were at the lowest level (between one and nine incidents). In Jordan, for example, a media personality and an editor employed at his website were detained and charged with “sectarian incitement and causing religious strife” for posting on Facebook a cartoon of a Turkish chef sprinkling salt at Jesus’ Last Supper.11
But government force against religious groups was much more widespread in some countries in the region. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, more than 300 Shiite Muslims remained in prison in the country’s Eastern Province, where the government has arrested more than 1,000 Shiites since 2011 in connection with protests for greater rights.12
Aside from Asia-Pacific and the Middle East-North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa was the only other region to experience an increase in its median level of government restrictions in 2018 (from 2.6 to 2.7), reaching a new high following a steady rise in recent years. While government use of force against religious groups decreased in the region, both harassment of religious groups and physical violence against minority groups went up.
More than eight-in-ten countries in the sub-Saharan region (40 out of 48) experienced some form of government harassment of religious groups, and 14 countries (29%) had reports of governments using physical coercion against religious minorities. In Mozambique, for example, the government arbitrarily detained men, women and children who appeared to be Muslim in response to violent attacks on civilians and security forces by an insurgent group. According to media and local organizations, the government response to the attacks was “heavy-handed.”13
Europe experienced a small decline in its median level of government restrictions, falling from 2.9 in 2017 to 2.8 in 2018, although government use of force increased slightly (see Chapter 3 for details). The median level of government restrictions in the Americas, meanwhile, remained stable between 2017 and 2018, as the region continued to experience the lowest levels of government restrictions compared with all other regions.
This is the 11th annual report in this continuing study, which looks not only at government restrictions on religion but also at social hostilities involving religion – that is, acts of religion-related hostility by private individuals, organizations or groups in society.
The new analysis finds that globally, social hostilities declined slightly in 2018 after hitting an all-time high the prior year. The median score on the Social Hostilities Index (a 10-point scale based on 13 measures of social hostilities involving religion) fell from 2.1 in 2017 to 2.0 in 2018. This small decline was partly due to fewer reports of incidents in which some religious groups (usually of a majority faith in a particular country) attempted to prevent other religious groups (usually of minority faiths) from operating. There also were fewer reports of individuals being assaulted or displaced from their homes for religious expression that goes against the majority faith in a country (see Appendix D for full details).
The number of countries with “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 (27%). This includes 16 European countries (36% of all countries in Europe), 14 in the Asia-Pacific region (28% of all Asia-Pacific countries) and 11 in the Middle East and North Africa (55% of MENA countries).
Taken together, in 2018, 40% of the world’s countries (80 countries overall) had “high” or “very high” levels of overall restrictions on religion — reflecting either government actions or hostile acts by private individuals, organizations or social groups – down slightly from 42% (83 countries) in 2017. This remains close to the 11-year peak that was reached in 2012, when 43% (85 countries) had high or very high levels of overall restrictions. By this combined measure, as of 2018, all 20 countries in the Middle East-North Africa region have high overall restrictions on religion, as do more than half of Asia-Pacific countries (27 countries, or 54% of the region) and more than a third of countries in Europe (17 countries, 38%).
For full results, see Appendix F.
How the Democracy Index works
The Democracy Index, compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit, measures the state of democracy in 165 independent countries and two territories around the world. The Index assesses states based on 60 questions that broadly cover five themes: electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, the functioning of government, political participation, and political culture. Each state is given a numeric score between
0 and 10 on the index and is classified into four regime types.
• Full Democracies: scores greater than 8
• Flawed Democracies: scores greater than 6, and less than or equal to 8
• Hybrid Regimes: scores greater than 4, and less than or equal to 6
• Authoritarian Regimes: scores less than or equal to 4
In this report, for the first time, Pew Research Center combined its data on government restrictions and social hostilities involving religion with a classification of regime types, based on the Democracy Index compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit.14 Researchers did this to discern whether there is a link between different models of government and levels of restrictions on religion – in other words, whether restrictions on religion tend to be more or less common in countries with full or partial democracies than in those with authoritarian regimes.15
The analysis finds a strong association between authoritarianism and government restrictions on religion. While there are many exceptions to this pattern, authoritarian regimes are much more common among the countries with very high government restrictions on religion – roughly two-thirds of these countries (65%) are classified as authoritarian. Among countries with low government restrictions on religion, meanwhile, just 7% are authoritarian.
There is less of a clear pattern when it comes to social hostilities involving religion. There are no countries classified by the Economist Intelligence Unit as full democracies that have very high levels of social hostilities involving religion (just as there are no full democracies with very high levels of government restrictions involving religion). At the same time, there are many authoritarian countries with low levels of social hostilities involving religion, suggesting that in some cases, a government may restrict religion through laws and actions by state authorities while limiting religious hostilities among its citizens.
When looking at countries with very high government restrictions on religion, Pew Research Center found that of the 26 countries in this category whose regimes were scored by the EIU on its Democracy Index in 2018, 17 (65%) were classified as authoritarian, three were hybrid regimes (12%) and three were flawed democracies (12%). There were no countries with very high government restrictions that were full democracies.16 The three countries with very high government restrictions that were classified as flawed democracies – Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore – all are regionally clustered in Southeast Asia.
Of the 30 countries with high government restrictions on religion, there were 12 authoritarian states (40%), 11 hybrid regimes (37%) and six flawed democracies (20%), according to the EIU Democracy Index. One full democracy, Denmark, also was in this category. In 2018, Denmark fell into the high government restrictions category for the first time, with its score driven partly by a ban on face coverings, which included Islamic burqas and niqabs, that went into effect that year.17
At the other end of the spectrum, among the 74 countries with low government restrictions, just five were classified as authoritarian (7%), 13 were hybrid regimes (18%), 27 were flawed democracies (36%) and seven were full democracies (9%). The countries with low government restrictions on religion that were also classified as authoritarian by the Democracy Index are all in sub-Saharan Africa: Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Republic of the Congo, Swaziland and Togo. There was no Democracy Index classification of regime type for 22 countries with low government restrictions (for a full list, see Appendix E).
In terms of social hostilities involving religion, the picture is more mixed – which makes sense given that social hostilities look at actions by private individuals or social groups and do not directly originate from government actions.
Among the 10 countries with very high levels of social hostilities, there were four authoritarian states, three hybrid regimes and three flawed democracies – India, Israel and Sri Lanka. Again, like countries with very high government restrictions, there were no full democracies with very high levels of social hostilities.
Among the 43 countries with high levels of social hostilities, nine were classified as authoritarian (21%), 14 were hybrid regimes (33%), 13 were flawed democracies (30%) and five were full democracies (12%).18
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. In Switzerland, for instance, Muslim groups reported growing anti-Muslim sentiments due to negative coverage by the media and hostile discourse on Islam by right-leaning political parties. During the year, for instance, a journalist who had initiated a local ban on face coverings handed out a “Swiss Stop Islam Award” of about $2,000 USD to three recipients.19
Among the 81 countries with low levels of social hostilities in 2018, there were 24 with no data on regime types (mostly small island nations the Democracy Index does not cover). Those with data are most commonly classified as flawed democracies (26 countries, or 32% of the 81 countries with low social hostilities).
But, strikingly, 17 countries (21%) with low social hostilities involving religion were classified as authoritarian – including countries like Eritrea and Kazakhstan, which have very high government restrictions on religion. In addition, several other authoritarian states with very high government restrictions on religion – such as China, Iran and Uzbekistan – have only moderate levels of social hostilities involving religion. In these cases, high levels of government control over religion may lead to fewer hostilities by nongovernment actors.
The rest of this report looks more closely at other changes in religious restrictions in 2018, including the countries with the most extensive government restrictions or social hostilities and the extent of changes in restrictions on religion since 2017 (Chapter 1); details about the harassment of specific religious groups (Chapter 2); and additional analysis on restrictions on religion by region (Chapter 3) and among the most populous countries in the world (Chapter 4).
Full results for all countries are available in Appendix F.
1. Number of countries with ‘very high’ government restrictions on religion ticked down in 2018
Countries with the most extensive government restrictions on religion
Government restrictions involving religion can vary greatly depending on the country. Some countries have much higher levels of government restrictions than others, either because their governments carry out a wider variety of actions that inhibit religious freedom, or because they enforce such restrictions more severely, or both.
In 2018, 26 of the 198 countries in this study had “very high” levels of government restrictions, a slight decrease from 27 in 2017 – which was the largest number of countries to reach the “very high” category since the study began in 2007.
On the other hand, the number of countries with “high” government restrictions rose by five in 2018, from 25 to 30. (For details about the thresholds for the “very high” and “high” categories, see Methodology.)
Three countries or territories – Iraq, Western Sahara and Yemen – had increased levels of government restrictions in 2018 that pushed them into the “very high” category (though all three had been in the top category in some previous years). Yemen, for example, returned to the “very high” category for the first time since 2011 after its score on the Government Restrictions Index (GRI) increased from 4.7 in 2017 to 6.6 in 2018, due in part to Houthi authorities instituting fees for people making the hajj (Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca) and shutting down travel agencies that would not comply.20
Houthi forces also intensified pressure on members of the Baha’i faith. During the year, Houthi leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi called on his followers to defend Yemen against Baha’is, who he said were “satanic” and at war with Islam. Houthi forces also continued to detain Baha’is and charged more than 20 of them with apostasy and espionage.21
Iraq and Western Sahara returned to the “very high” category in 2018 after dropping into the “high” category due to small decreases (less than 1 point on the GRI) in 2017. In 2018, both countries experienced very small increases that moved them back into the highest category.22
Four countries – Comoros, Laos, Pakistan and Sudan – fell out of the “very high” category, although all maintained “high” levels of government restrictions. Laos, Pakistan and Sudan had small decreases of less than 1 point in 2018. Comoros, however, experienced a more substantial decrease, from 7.4 to 5.8 on the GRI, due to fewer reported incidents of government officials harassing minority Muslim groups. In 2017, the government had closed mosques of certain Muslim communities.23
For a complete list of all countries in each category, see the Government Restrictions Index table in Appendix A.
Countries with the most extensive social hostilities involving religion
As with government restrictions, some countries stand out each year for having very high levels of social hostilities involving religion. Social hostilities include violence carried out by individuals as well as efforts by groups outside of government to target people based on their religion, such as harassment of a religious minority by members of the majority faith.
Libya and Sri Lanka had increases in their Social Hostilities Index (SHI) scores that put them into the “very high” category in 2018. Libya experienced a small increase of less than 1 point, while Sri Lanka’s SHI score rose from 5.6 to 7.2. Sri Lanka’s increase was due in part to a series of violent riots that took place after a Sinhalese Buddhist man was killed by Muslims. The killing sparked retaliation against the Muslim community that left 30 Muslims injured or dead and led the government to declare a 10-day state of emergency.24(This report focuses on data from 2018, before the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka that killed hundreds in 2019.)
Meanwhile, Bangladesh and Yemen fell out of the top category for social hostilities in 2018, with small decreases that moved them into the “high” category. In Bangladesh, for example, there were fewer reported incidents of communal violence between religious groups in 2018 than in 2017.
For a complete list of all countries in each category, see the Social Hostilities Index table in Appendix B.
Changes in government restrictions on religion
Many countries do not reach the “very high” or “high” categories of government restrictions but still experience notable changes in how their governments restrict religion. To capture these situations, Pew Research Center analyzes the magnitude of changes across all countries and categories to provide insight into government actions and policies that have an especially large impact on religious restrictions in each country in a given year.
In 2018, 67 countries had increases in their GRI scores, while 51 countries had decreases and 80 countries had no change in their scores on the Government Restrictions Index. By contrast, in 2017, an equal number of countries had increases and decreases in their GRI scores (67 each), while slightly fewer (64) had no change in their scores that year.
Yemen experienced the greatest change in its GRI score, rising by 1.9 points (see details above). No countries saw large changes of 2.0 or more points in their GRI scores in 2018. Eleven countries saw modest changes (1.0 to 1.9 points) in their GRI scores, with nine of them experiencing increases. In Armenia, for example, police detained a self-described atheist youth in an attempt to pressure him to rejoin the Armenian Apostolic Church, according to an independent media report.25
Most countries (107 out of 198) experienced only small changes (less than 1 point) in their GRI scores, including 58 with increases and 49 with decreases.
Changes in social hostilities involving religion
Five countries saw large changes (2 points or more) in social hostilities in 2018, with two – El Salvador and South Korea – rising from the “low” category to the “moderate” category. In South Korea, more than 120,000 people protested coercive religious conversion after reports that a couple had killed their daughter during an effort to forcibly convert her to Christianity.26
The other three countries – Italy, Uganda and the United Kingdom – experienced large decreases in their SHI scores. The decline in social hostilities in Italy may be due in part to the government not publishing statistics on religiously motivated incidents in 2018, unlike in previous years.27
Thirty-four countries registered modest changes in SHI scores (1.0 to 1.9 points), including 13 increases and 21 decreases. One of the increases occurred in Malaysia, where there were additional reports of violence against religious groups, including an incident of mob violence in which 200 masked individuals tried to remove worshippers from a Hindu temple.28
Out of the 198 countries in the study, 93 experienced small changes in their SHI scores (0.1 to 0.9 points) – 46 with increases and 47 with decreases. There were no changes in SHI scores in 66 countries.
Changes in overall restrictions on religion
In addition to looking at measures of government restrictions separately from social hostilities, Pew Research Center analyzes these changes together to help provide a more complete picture of religious restrictions in each country.
In 2018, roughly equal numbers of countries had increases (77 countries) and decreases (80) in their overall scores – in most cases, just small changes in either direction.
Among the countries with net increases, 57 had small increases (less than 1 point) and 18 had modest increases (between 1.0 and 1.9 points). Only two countries (El Salvador and South Korea) had large increases of 2 points or more in their overall scores.
Among the countries that had decreases, most (59) had small decreases and fewer (19) had modest decreases. Two countries – Italy and the United Kingdom – had large decreases in their overall scores.
Forty-one countries had no change in their overall scores between 2017 and 2018.
2. Harassment of religious groups continues to be reported in more than 90% of countries
In 2018, this study’s sources continued to report harassment against religious groups – either by governments or social groups and individuals – in the vast majority of countries around the world (185 out of 198).29 This figure ticked down slightly from 187 the previous year, marking the first decrease since 2014 in the number of countries where harassment was observed.
Harassment can include a wide range of actions – from verbal abuse to physical violence and killings – motivated at least in part by the target’s religious identity. In addition to harassment of religious groups and persons, this study measures harassment against those who are religiously unaffiliated, including atheists, agnostics and humanists.
As in previous years, Christians and Muslims experienced harassment in more countries than any other religious groups in 2018. 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.
In 2018, Christians reportedly were harassed in 145 countries, up from 143 countries in 2017. In Israel, for instance, an Ethiopian Christian monk was reportedly injured by police officers who were attempting to evict him from his church.30 And in Burundi, a Christian man died after he was imprisoned and allegedly beaten by police for refusing – on the basis of his religious conscience – to register to vote.31
Muslims were harassed in 139 countries in 2018, down slightly from 140 countries in 2017. In Argentina, a Muslim woman was not permitted to use a swimming pool because she was wearing a burkini.32 And in Lebanon, three brothers reportedly killed a Sunni man after accusing him of making blasphemous remarks in a market.33
Jews were harassed in 88 countries – a slight increase from 87 countries in 2017 – and continue to be harassed in the third highest number of countries, despite the group’s relatively small population size (0.2% of the global population). In France, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor was stabbed to death in March 2018, and President Emmanuel Macron said publicly that the victim was “murdered because she was Jewish.”34
Hindus were harassed in 19 countries – declining from 23 countries the previous two years. A Hindu priest was killed in Bangladesh in an attack authorities believed may have been motivated by anti-Hindu sentiment.35
Buddhists experienced the largest increase of any single religious group in the number of countries where they faced harassment, from 19 in 2017 to 24 in 2018 – the highest number since the study began in 2007. In Sri Lanka, a Buddhist group was denied permission to construct a shrine on a mountain that they claimed to have a connection to.36 And in Indonesia, a Buddhist woman was convicted of blasphemy for complaining about the volume of the Islamic call to prayer.37
Religiously unaffiliated people (including atheists, agnostics and people who don’t identify with any religion) were harassed for religious reasons in 18 countries in 2018, down from 23 the previous year – the biggest decrease of any group. Still, in Egypt, an atheist blogger was arrested and detained for four days after being charged with insulting Islam and Shariah and disrupting communal peace with a series of YouTube videos.38
Religious groups face harassment from a variety of actors, but some tend to experience more abuse from governments than from individuals or groups in society, and vice versa. In 2018, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims and religiously unaffiliated people were harassed by government actors in more countries than they were by individuals or groups not affiliated with the government, such as other religious groups, hate groups or secular groups. Conversely, Jews have faced more social harassment than government harassment in each year since the study began in 2007. This pattern continued in 2018, when social hostilities against Jews were reported in 77 countries, compared with 59 countries where Jews experienced government harassment.
Adherents of folk religions faced both social hostilities and government harassment in 23 countries in 2018. For example, a Vodou practitioner in Haiti was killed after he provided treatment to an ill woman who later died.39
Other religious groups beyond those separately analyzed above – including Baha’is, Scientologists, Sikhs, Rastafarians and Zoroastrians – experienced government harassment in twice as many countries as they faced social hostilities (50 countries vs. 25). For instance, in Canada, the Quebec Appeal Court upheld the right of the legislature to deny entrance to individuals with a kirpan, a sacred dagger carried by Sikhs.40
Harassment of Christians and Muslims by region
Beyond the different types of harassment religious groups face, there also are regional variations in where the two largest religious groups are more likely to face harassment. 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). Social harassment occurred in 15 countries, the highest share (75%) since the beginning of the study, while government harassment of Christians was reported in 19 countries in the region, down from all 20 in 2017. For example, in Algeria, a court denied an interfaith couple’s marriage application because one of them was a Christian.41
Christians reportedly were harassed by governments or social groups in 80% of countries in the Asia-Pacific region. 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.
A higher number of countries experienced government harassment (rather than social harassment) of Christians in every region but the Americas, where Christians were harassed by governments in 16 countries and social groups in 17 countries.
When it comes to the share of countries, Muslims faced more harassment overall in the Middle East-North Africa region (20 of 20 countries) and Europe (39 of 45 countries) than other regions. In the Middle East, all 20 governments harassed Muslims (including minority sects within Islam), and 82% of European governments did the same. Meanwhile, social harassment of Muslims was reported in 65% of countries in the Middle East and 71% of countries in Europe (32 out of 45 countries).
In Asia and the Pacific, harassment of Muslims was reported in 70% of countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, this figure was 71%, and it was 31% in the Americas. In every region except the Americas, harassment of Muslims by governments was more common than by social groups, but in the Americas, 20% of governments harassed Muslims, while social hostilities against Muslims occurred in in 26% of countries.
3. In 2018, government restrictions rose in most regions, but social hostilities declined
In 2018, the global median level of government restrictions on religion reached a peak at 2.9 after remaining stable at 2.8 in 2016 and 2017. Three out of five regions in the study experienced increases (Asia and the Pacific, the Middle East and North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa), while Europe had a slight decrease and the median score for the Americas remained about the same.
As in all prior years of the study, the Middle East and North Africa continued to have the highest median level of government restrictions (6.2 out of 10 on the Government Restrictions Index, or GRI). All 20 states in the region had some level of harassment of religious groups and interference in worship. Qatar, for example, continued to prohibit non-Muslim groups from public worship, displaying religious symbols and proselytizing.42 And in Sunni-majority Egypt, authorities continued to restrict access to the tomb of Imam Al-Hussein, the grandson of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad and an important figure for Shiite Muslims. The closure occurred, as it has in recent years, during the Shiite commemoration of Ashura, and although the Egyptian government claimed it was due to construction, some media reported that it was an attempt to limit Shiite religious rituals.43
The largest overall increase in levels of government restrictions on religion occurred in the Asia-Pacific region, where the median GRI score among the region’s 50 countries moved from 3.8 to 4.4 – an all-time high (see Overview for details). While this increase was driven partly by instances of government use of force against religious groups in more countries (especially at “low levels”), there also were increased reports of restrictions on wearing religious symbols or headscarves in the region.
In total, 19 out of 50 countries in the Asia-Pacific region (38%) had some reported restrictions on wearing religious symbols and headscarves, an increase from 14 countries (28%) the previous year. In Australia, for example, a judge did not allow a woman to wear a niqab in the court’s public spectator gallery during her husband’s trial on charges of terrorism.44 And in Thailand, a public school located on a Buddhist temple property in the predominantly Muslim southern part of the country refused to let a group of Muslim students wear headscarves to school.45 In Turkey, by contrast, students and parents claimed a school principal in the city of Urfa threatened that female students would receive failing grades if they did not wear head coverings.46
In sub-Saharan Africa, the median GRI score ticked up from 2.6 to 2.7 between 2017 and 2018. As discussed in the Overview, government harassment and hostility toward minority religious groups was reported in slightly more countries across the region. Although government force against religious groups fell overall, 20 countries (42%) in sub-Saharan Africa still experienced some level of government force toward religious groups in 2018.
In Kenya, for example, counterterrorism efforts led to the disproportionate targeting of Muslims, particularly ethnic Somalis in areas along the border with Somalia. The government actions included “extrajudicial killing, torture and forced interrogation, arbitrary arrest, detention without trial, and denial of freedom of assembly and worship,” according to the U.S. State Department.47
And in Eritrea, where the government has officially recognized only four religious groups (the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Sunni Islam, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Eritrea) since 2002, hundreds of prisoners continued to be detained on the basis of their religion. An estimated 345 church leaders and 800 to 1,000 lay members were imprisoned, according to a UK-based Christian organization, and 53 Jehovah’s Witnesses reportedly remained in detention for refusing military service as a matter of conscientious objection.48 The government also detained up to 800 protesters, according to human rights groups, after the death in prison of a prominent Muslim who had been arrested for speaking out against a government plan to expropriate an Islamic school.49
Europe’s median GRI score dipped slightly, from 2.9 in 2017 to 2.8 in 2018, partly because of fewer reports that governments failed to protect religious groups from abuse. For example, in 2017, Jewish groups had criticized a French prosecutor’s delay in indicting a man for beating a 65-year-old Jewish woman and pushing her out a window, as well as the prosecutor’s initial exclusion of anti-Semitism as a motive for the murder.50 But no such complaints were reported in 2018, even though there were continued reports of harassment of Jews because of their religion. In fact, the French government announced a three-year national action plan (spanning 2018 to 2020) to combat anti-Semitism and racism, including countering online hate content and improving victim protection services. At the same time, however, the government continued to restrict religion through its counterterrorism measures, closing down mosques and expelling preachers it deemed radical.51
Throughout Europe, government use of force – which includes confiscation or damage of property, detentions, displacement, physical abuse or killings – against religious groups increased slightly, especially at low levels: The number of countries where fewer than 10 such incidents were recorded during the year increased from 10 in 2017 to 15 in 2018, while the number of countries where no such incidents were reported dropped from 31 to 28.
For instance, in North Macedonia (formerly the Republic of Macedonia), authorities seized the passport of the archbishop of the Orthodox Archbishopric of Ohrid – a religious group the government has denied official recognition – and prevented him from crossing the border into Greece. The archbishop filed complaints with various European entities, and by the end of the year, the passport had been returned without explanation.52
There was more widespread use of force in some parts of the region. In Russia, for example, the government continued targeting “nontraditional” religious groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, who were formally banned in 2017. Throughout 2018, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia faced raids on their homes, detentions, travel restrictions and investigations, and an estimated $90 million of church property was confiscated.53
The Americas continued to have lower levels of government restrictions on religion than any other major region; its median score was stable (2.0 in both 2017 and 2018). Still, 86% of countries in the Americas (30 out of 35) experienced some level of government harassment against religious groups, and 80% (28 countries) had reports of authorities interfering in worship in some way.
In Nicaragua, according to Amnesty International, the government “committed or permitted” serious human rights violations, including attacks on the Catholic Church and its clergy, especially those who helped protect protesters. For example, in July, police conducted a 15-hour attack on a church in the capital city of Managua that was providing shelter to student protesters; two people died and at least 10 were injured in the police action. And in September, a deputy chief of police assaulted a priest for asking government supporters to turn down ruling-party propaganda music playing outside the church during a funeral.54
In the Bahamas and Jamaica, meanwhile, the Afro-Caribbean religious practice of Obeah remains illegal.55 At the same time, Antigua and Barbuda decriminalized marijuana use – which Rastafarians argue is integral to their religious rituals – and publicly apologized for discriminating against the group in the past (although Rastafarians continued to face obstacles to using marijuana ceremonially in other parts of the region).56
Social hostilities by region
In 2018, the global median level of social hostilities declined slightly from 2.1 to 2.0, though it remained close to the all-time high reached in the previous year. The Americas was the only region in 2018 to experience an increase in its median score on the 10-point Social Hostilities Index (SHI). The Asia-Pacific region’s median score remained about the same, while sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and the Middle East-North Africa regions all experienced declines – with the Middle East and North Africa’s score near its all-time low of 3.7, established in the baseline year of 2007.57
The median SHI score in the Americas was 0.7, an increase from 0.4 in 2017. Still, the Americas continued to have the lowest overall level of social hostilities of the five geographic regions analyzed in the study.
The largest increase within the Americas occurred in El Salvador, where in March, during Catholic Holy Week, armed men robbed a priest and his companions on their way to Mass and killed the priest.58 Then, in July, Salvadoran gang members killed a Protestant pastor for reportedly persuading six members to leave the gang and join his congregation. Gang members also extorted money from congregations in exchange for letting them operate, or in some cases made them divert charitable donations to gang members’ families.59
The United States experienced a decrease in its overall social hostilities score, but it was one of the only countries in the Americas with religion-related terrorist activity in 2018.60 In October, a man attacked a synagogue in Pittsburgh and shot worshippers during services, killing 11 people and injuring six others in one of the deadliest assaults on Jews in American history. Prior to the attack, the shooter was reported to have posted anti-Semitic statements on social media protesting a nonprofit Jewish organization’s resettlement of refugees in the U.S.61
In sub-Saharan Africa, the median level of social hostilities involving religion fell from 2.2 to 2.0 between 2017 and 2018, while Europe’s median score on the SHI dropped from 2.6 to 2.2, and the Middle East-North Africa saw a decline from 4.3 to 3.8. There were fewer countries in all these regions with reported attacks on individuals who practice a religion that goes against the majority faith in the country (see SHI.Q.10 in Appendix D). Sub-Saharan Africa also had fewer countries with reports of hostilities over enforcing religious norms (SHI.Q.9).
The median social hostilities score for Asia and the Pacific remained at 2.1 in 2018, the same as in 2017.
4. Restrictions on religion among the 25 most populous countries in 2018
More than three-quarters of the world’s population lives in the 25 most populous countries. Focusing on these countries can shed light on how most people are affected by government restrictions and social hostilities involving religion – although not everyone in any particular country is equally affected by religious restrictions. Religious minorities vary from country to country and are often impacted disproportionately.
Among the 25 most populous countries in 2018, India, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan and Russia had the highest overall levels of both government restrictions and social hostilities involving religion. The most populous countries with the lowest overall scores were Japan, South Africa, Italy, Brazil and the United States.62
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 countries ranking lowest in terms of government restrictions were Japan, Brazil, South Africa, the Philippines, and South Korea. All of these countries had “low” levels of government restrictions in 2018, except for South Korea, which had “moderate” levels of government restrictions.
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. Bangladesh is the only one of these countries that moved out of the “very high” category into the “high” category in 2018. Japan, China, Vietnam, Iran and the United States had the lowest levels of social hostilities among the world’s 25 most populous countries. Japan was the only one of the top 25 to fall into the “low” category of social hostilities in 2018; the rest experienced “moderate” or higher levels of social hostilities involving religion.
There are cases when levels of government restrictions tend to mirror levels of social hostilities in a country. For example, Egypt was in the “very high” categories of both government restrictions and social hostilities in 2018, while Italy scored “moderate” on both measures. But there also are cases when government restrictions and social hostilities do not align. For example, Iran had the second-highest score on the Government Restrictions Index out of the 198 countries and territories in the study in 2018, yet it had “moderate” levels of social hostilities involving religion.
In 2018, all 25 of the world’s most populous countries experienced either small changes (less than 1.0 point or no change in their Government Restrictions Index (GRI) scores. As a result, most of these countries did not shift from one category to another. Pakistan, however, experienced a very small decrease in government restrictions in 2018, moving it from “very high” to “high” on the GRI scale. (Among other things, in 2018 Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who had been sentenced to death in 2010 on blasphemy charges.63)
In terms of changes to Social Hostilities Index (SHI) scores, three of the most populous countries had large changes (2.0 points or more) in 2018. Italy and the United Kingdom experienced large decreases in social hostilities involving religion, with Italy falling from the “high” category to “moderate,” perhaps in part because the Italian government did not report on incidents related to religious hatred as it had in previous years.64 In 2017, the United Kingdom had experienced multiple incidents of terrorism related to religion, including a bombing at Manchester Arena that killed 23 people and injured more than 100, as well as an incident in which an individual drove a van into a crowd of pedestrians gathered outside a mosque in London, injuring eight and killing one.65 No such incidents were reported in the UK in 2018.
Among the 25 most populous countries, South Korea was the only one that experienced a large increase in social hostilities in 2018, causing it to move from “low” to “moderate,” due in part to rising reports of hostilities over religious conversions.
This report was produced by Pew Research Center as part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, which analyzes religious change and its impact on societies around the world. Funding for the Global Religious Futures project comes from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John Templeton Foundation.
This report is a collaborative effort based on the input and analysis of the following individuals:
Samirah Majumdar, Research Associate
Virginia Villa, Research Assistant
Alan Cooperman, Director of Religion Research
Anne Fengyan Shi, Senior Researcher
Aidan Connaughton, Celia Commers, Justin Nortey, Katherine Bradshaw and Nicholas O. Kent
Editorial and Graphic Design
Michael Lipka, Editorial Manager
Aleksandra Sandstrom, Senior Copy Editor
Bill Webster, Senior Information Graphics Designer
Communications and Web Publishing
Stacy Rosenberg, Associate Director, Digital
Travis Mitchell, Digital Producer
Anna Schiller, Senior Communications Manager
Kelsey Beveridge, Communications Associate
Aidan Connaughton, research assistant, and Russell Maltempo, senior associate for technology solutions at The Pew Charitable Trusts, provided valuable assistance with the appendixes for this report.