Washington D.C., Mar 3, 2015 / 17:00 pm
Christian groups lead the world in a sobering statistic: they suffer harassment in more countries than any other religious group.
"The world's two largest religious groups, Christians and Muslims, continued to be harassed in the most countries, and there was a notable increase in the number of countries in which Jews and adherents of folk religions were harassed," the Pew Research Center said in a Feb. 26 report on trends in religion-related restrictions and hostilities.
Christian groups suffered social or government harassment in 102 countries in 2013, while Muslims faced similar problems in 99 countries. Jewish groups faced harassment in 77 countries, a seven-year high.
Pew defined harassment in various ways, encompassing physical assault; arrest and detention; desecration of holy sites; discrimination in employment, education and housing; and verbal assaults.
The number of countries with a "very high" level of government restrictions now stands at 18, down from 24, though Turkey and Singapore are new to the list. Some evangelical Protestants and Mormons say they suffer government surveillance and police interference in their activities in Turkey. Singapore continues to ban Jehovah's Witnesses and the Unification Church, and severely restricts some religious groups including the Falun Gong movement.
While religion-related social hostilities are down slightly from a 2012 peak, high social or political hostility towards religion is present in almost 40 percent of the world's countries, Pew found.
Another 17 countries show "very high" social hostility levels, the report said. Social harassment is a problem for Muslim groups in 84 countries, a problem for Jewish groups in 72 countries, and a problem for Christian groups in 71 countries.
Tanzania and the Central African Republic were new to the list of countries with very high religion-related social hostilities. The Central African Republic is suffering sectarian violence between Muslim rebel groups and Christian vigilante groups, with hundreds of people dead and hundreds of thousands of people displaced.
The Ivory Coast was one of 12 countries where social hostilities significantly declined. Pew cited as cause for the decline the joint statements from Christian and Muslim leaders who promoted national reconciliation and religious tolerance and interfaith events that emphasized national unity.
Pew researchers drew on publicly available information sources including the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, and the Council of the European Union. The analysis focused on the year 2013 because it was the latest year information was available.
North Korea was not included in the report because independent observers lack access to the country, which is considered one of the most repressive in the world.
The year 2015 marks the seventh year Pew has produced a report on government restrictions and hostilities related to religion.