Restrictions on religious freedom increasing globally, says Pew study

(Reuters/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)An armed policeman secures the Coptic church that was bombed on Sunday in Tanta, Egypt April 10, 2017.

The Pew Research Center's annual study on religious freedom has found that restrictions on religion have increased globally in 2015.

The report, published by Pew on Tuesday, revealed that religious freedom restrictions increased globally for the first time in three years, reversing a downward trend.

The results indicated that the number of countries with "high" or "very high" levels of restrictions on religion due to laws, policies or actions of government has risen from 24 percent in 2014 to 25 percent in 2015.

The number of countries with high or very high levels of social hostilities against religion by private individuals or groups has risen in 2015 from 23 percent to 27 percent.

The rise in religious freedom restrictions happened in a year when European countries welcomed an increasing number of refugees and when a number of religion-related attacks rocked France. During that time, people with albinism were targeted for rituals by witch doctors in sub-Saharan Africa.

Katayoun Kishi, the primary researcher on the study, said that it is too soon to tell whether the increase is a trend or just a blip.

"I think we'd have to wait and see till next year whether or not this trend continues or if this is sort of a one-off just because it is such a modest increase," she stated.

Several factors reflected in the rise in social hostilities include increases in mob violence related to religion, individuals being assaulted or displaced because of their faith, and cases when violence was used to enforce religious norms.

According to Pew, a total of 105 out of 198 countries surveyed experienced widespread government harassment of religious groups, up from 85 in 2014 and 96 in 2013.

Religious groups in 23 countries have experienced over 200 cases of government force in 2015, up from 21 countries in 2014.

The Middle East–North Africa region had the highest percentage of countries where government harassed or used force against religious groups at 95 percent. But the largest increase was in Europe with 53 percent of the countries experiencing a rise in government harassment or force between 2014 and 2015.

France and Russia each had more than 200 cases of government force against religious groups. In France, most of the cases involved individuals being punished for violating the ban on face coverings in public spaces and government buildings. The cases in Russia involved groups being prosecuted for exercising their religion.

Overall, Egypt had the highest levels of government restrictions on religion in 2015, while Nigeria had the most social hostilities toward it.

The researchers used two 10-point indexes, the Government Restrictions Index, and the Social Hostilities Index, to rate the 198 countries in the study. The primary sources of Pew's research on global restrictions on religion include reports from U.S. government agencies, the United Nations, and non-governmental organizations like the Anti-Defamation League.

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