August 9, 2011

Rising Restrictions on Religion - One-third of the world’s population experiences an increase

Rising Restrictions on Religion

restricttwo-11The Government Restrictions Index (GRI) measures limits imposed by governments on religious beliefs and practices. The 10-point index is based on 20 questions used by the Pew Forum to gauge the extent to which governments at any level – national, provincial or local – try to control religious groups or individuals, prohibit conversions from one faith to another, limit preaching and proselytizing, or otherwise hinder religious affiliation by means such as registration requirements and fines. The questions seek to capture both relatively straightforward efforts to restrict religion – for example, through a nation’s constitution and laws – as well as efforts that are more indirect, such as favoring certain religions by means of preferential funding. (For more information on the index, see the Methodology. The questions are shown in the Summary of Results. Details on how all 198 countries and territories scored on each question are available online, in the Results by Country.)

The Pew Forum categorizes the levels of government restrictions by percentiles. Countries with scores in the top 5% are categorized as “very high.” The next highest 15% of scores are categorized as “high,” and the following 20% are categorized as “moderate.” The bottom 60% of scores are categorized as “low.” (For a complete list of countries in each category, see the Government Restrictions Index table.)

Situation as of Mid-2009

restricttwo-12Overall, the study finds that during the period from mid-2007 to mid-2009 government restrictions on religion were high or very high in 42 countries, about one-in-five worldwide.4 The 10 countries that had very high restrictions as of mid-2009 were Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, China, Maldives, Malaysia, Burma (Myanmar), Eritrea and Indonesia. Government restrictions were in the moderate range in 39 countries. A much larger number of countries – 117 – had low levels of government restrictions.5 But because many of the more restrictive countries (including China and India) are very populous, more than half of the world’s population (59%) was living with high or very high government restrictions on religion as of mid-2009.

As noted in the December 2009 baseline report, the mathematical presentation of scores for individual countries needs to be kept in context. The Pew Forum has deliberately chosen not to attach numerical rankings from No. 1 to No. 198 both because there are many tie scores and because the differences between the scores of countries that are close to each other on the index may not be important.

Overall Changes in Government Restrictions

Comparing the Pew Forum’s index scores for the baseline period (mid-2006 to mid-2008) with the scores for the latest period (mid-2007 to mid-2009), the study finds that government restrictions on religion rose substantially in 14 countries and decreased substantially in eight countries. The scores stayed roughly the same in most (176) countries. (As noted in the Executive Summary, the study refers to a change in a country’s score as “substantial” only if it is at least 1.5 standard deviations above or below the mean amount of change among all 198 countries or territories. The change also had to be in the same direction over the two periods studied, meaning that it had to rise or fall both in the period from mid-2006 to mid-2008 and in the period from mid-2007 to mid-2009. For more details, see Methodology.)

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In general, most of the increases in government restrictions occurred in countries that already had very high, high or moderate levels of government restrictions. Most of the decreases were in countries that already scored low. Among the 40 countries that had high or very high government restrictions as of mid-2008, restrictions increased substantially in seven and decreased substantially in one. Among the 40 countries that started out with moderate government restrictions, there were substantial increases in six, and none had substantial decreases. In contrast, among the 118 countries that started out with low restrictions, the level of government restrictions decreased in seven and increased in just one. This suggests that there might be a gradual polarization taking place in which countries that are relatively high in government restrictions are getting higher, while those that are relatively low are stable or getting lower.

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Looking at all 198 countries and territories, the average score on the Government Restrictions Index rose from 2.6 for the period ending in mid-2008 to 2.7 for the period ending in mid-2009. The biggest increases were among the countries that started with high or very high government restrictions. There was no change in the average index score among the countries that initially had moderate or low government restrictions.

Changes in Some Key Types of Government Restrictions

restricttwo-15During the most recent period studied (mid-2007 to mid-2009), 131 countries (or about two-thirds) interfered with the worship or other religious practices of one or more groups in at least a few cases, up from 128 countries in the period from mid-2006 to mid-2008. (See Summary of Results, GRI Q. 4.) Such interference included instances when local officials refused to grant or made it difficult to obtain zoning permits to build places of worship, which happened in countries ranging from Switzerland to Swaziland. It also included more widespread instances of interference. Indeed, governments in 50 countries (25%) prohibited the religious or worship practices of one or more religious groups as a general policy. This type of restriction was up sharply from the period ending in mid-2008, when 38 countries (19%) fell into this category.

In 40 countries, officials at some level of government banned a particular religious group, up from 38 countries in the period from mid-2006 to mid-2008. (See Summary of Results, GRI Q. 16.) In more than half of the countries (28), government officials cited security concerns as the rationale for banning the group[s]. (In some cases, they cited non-security reasons as well.) The government of Tajikistan, for example, banned religious groups that it considered “extremist” organizations, including the Islamist movement known as Hizb ut-Tahrir (or “Party of Liberation”).6 In some instances, countries banned groups that they considered to be cults. In April 2009, for example, the Honduran government banned the Puerto Rican religious group Creciendo en Gracia, whose leader claims to be the Antichrist and speaks out against traditional organized religion. Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to be banned in several countries, including Syria and Singapore.

restricttwo-16There was a notable increase in the number of countries that regulate religious symbols, such as head or body coverings for women or facial hair for men. The number of countries that had such restrictions rose from 42 as of mid-2008 to 53 as of mid-2009. (See Summary of Results, GRI Q. 10.) There was a particularly sharp increase in the number of countries that regulate face, head or body coverings for women, which rose from 31 to 42, a 35% increase. In Canada, for instance, an Ontario Superior Court judge ruled in May 2009 that Muslim women do not have a blanket right to wear a face-covering veil (the niqab) while testifying in court, saying judges should decide this on a case-by-case basis. Several countries, including Oman and Algeria, appeared to step up their enforcement of restrictions on wearing face-covering veils. In Oman, women are permitted to wear the hijab (headscarf) in passport and other official photographs, but they are not allowed to wear veils that fully cover the face in official photos. Algeria allows female government employees to wear headscarves or crosses at work, but it forbids them from wearing the niqab.

In France – which in 2004 banned the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols, including head scarves and large crosses, in public schools – some politicians began calling for the establishment of a commission to study the effect of head-to-toe burqas and face-covering Islamic veils on French society. French President Nicolas Sarkozy appeared to endorse the idea in his first state of the nation address on June 22, 2009, saying “the burqa is not welcome in France.” (The French Parliament voted to ban burqas and full-face veils in public places in 2010, outside the period covered in this report; the ban took effect in April 2011.)

restricttwo-17The number of countries where the government limits religious literature or broadcasting rose from 80 as of mid-2008 to 87 as of mid-2009. (See Summary of Results, GRI Q. 8.) In Germany, for instance, the Federal Ministry of the Interior announced on Oct.12, 2008, that it was banning broadcasts of Al-Manar TV, a television station based in Beirut, Lebanon. The German ministry said it banned the broadcasts because they contained anti-Semitic propaganda. But governments sometimes restricted religious broadcasting or literature in less direct ways. In April 2009, for example, the Catholic Church reportedly was pressured by the Zambian government to relieve a priest of his duties after he strongly criticized the government on his popular radio program.

Certain government policies that on the surface appear to be neutral can, in practice, result in restrictions on religion. For example, most countries or territories (181 during the period ending in mid-2009) required religious groups to register with the government for one purpose or another, such as to obtain tax-exempt status. (See Summary of Results, GRI Q. 18.) But these registration requirements resulted in major problems for, or outright discrimination against, certain groups in 86 countries as of mid-2009, up from 79 countries in the period ending in mid-2008. For example, because the Serbian government did not allow some religious groups to register – including the League of Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Hare Krishna movement, the Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement and several evangelical Protestant churches – they could not air programming on public media; the code of conduct of the state’s Republic Broadcasting Agency restricts public media access to registered religious groups.

Levels of Government Restrictions
Countries with very high government restrictions have intensive restrictions on many or all of the 20 measures that make up the Government Restrictions Index. In Iran, for example, the constitution states that Islam is the official state religion and the doctrine to be followed is the Twelver school of Shia Islam.1 The constitution also states that all laws and regulations must be consistent with the teachings of Islam. As a result, the religious clerics who interpret the application of religious law in Iran also are the ultimate arbiters in social and political affairs. Members of religious minorities in Iran – including Sufi Muslims, Baha’is, Christians (particularly evangelical Protestants), and Jews – frequently report harassment by the government, ranging from officially sanctioned discrimination in employment, education and housing to arrest and prolonged detention.Countries with high government restrictions have intensive restrictions on several of the 20 measures or more moderate restrictions on many of them. According to Indonesian law, for instance, spreading heresy or blasphemy is punishable by up to five years in prison. Some countries in this category have intense government restrictions on religion at the local or province level. For example, six of the 28 states of India have “anti-conversion” laws that are used by local police to arrest people suspected of offering incentives to potential converts from Hinduism.Countries with moderate government restrictions have intensive restrictions on a few measures, or more moderate restrictions on several of them. The constitution of Sri Lanka, for example, gives members of all faiths the right to freely practice their religion. But the same document also gives Buddhism the “foremost place” in society and says “it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster” Buddhist values. Because of Buddhism’s favored status, other religious groups sometimes face discrimination and other forms of harassment from the government. During the most recent reporting period, for example, evangelical Christian groups complained that some state schools refused to accept Christian students or forced them to study Buddhism.Countries with low government restrictions generally have moderate or low restrictions on a few of the measures. In the African nation of Sierra Leone, for instance, there were no reported instances of government interference in religious practices in the period from mid-2007 to mid- 2009. Nevertheless, the country continued to have legal mechanisms that could be interpreted as restricting certain religious activities. For example, although Sierra Leone’s Constitution provides many safeguards for religious freedom, it also stipulates that “for the purposes of protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons,” there should be no “unsolicited intervention of the members of any other religion.” This could be taken to mean that members of one religion should not try to proselytize members of other religious groups.


Footnotes:

1 This is the largest branch of Shia Islam. It takes its name from the belief that there were 12 divinely ordained imams (leaders) in early Islam, the twelfth of whom disappeared and will return as the Mahdi (guided one) to rid the world of injustice before God’s final judgment of the world. According to the Pew Forum’s January 2011 report The Future of the Global Muslim Population, roughly 93% of Muslims in Iran are Shia. (return to text)

There was no major change in the number of countries that allow foreign missionaries to operate (see Summary of Results, GRI Q. 9), allow proselytizing (see Summary of Results, GRI Q. 6) or allow public preaching by religious groups (see Summary of Results, GRI Q. 5). But one or more of these activities was limited by governments in 110 of the 198 countries and territories (56%) during the period from mid-2007 to mid-2009.

Countries with Substantial Increases in Government Restrictions

restricttwo-18Over the entire three-year period covered in this study (mid-2006 to mid-2009), government restrictions on religion increased substantially in 14 of the 198 countries or territories. (See Executive Summary for a definition of substantial change.)

Seven of the 14 countries already had high or very high government restrictions. Egypt and Malaysia had very high restrictions to begin with, while Algeria, Libya, Tajikistan, Syria and Yemen had high levels of restrictions. By contrast, government restrictions increased substantially in only one country where restrictions were low to begin with – Hong Kong. Despite the increase, Hong Kong remained in the low-government-restrictions category as of mid-2009. (See the list of all countries on the Government Restrictions Index table.)

The level of government restrictions in Egypt was increasing well before the recent uprising that led to the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. During the period ending in mid-2009, the government maintained a longstanding ban on the Muslim Brotherhood, an influential Islamic organization.7 Although some of the group’s activities tacitly were tolerated by the government, members of the Brotherhood reportedly were subject to arbitrary detention and other pressure. The Egyptian government also continued to discriminate against Christians in public-sector hiring, including staff appointments at public universities, and continued to bar Christians from studying at Al-Azhar University, a publicly funded institution widely known
as a seat of Islamic learning.

Many of the restrictions in Egypt were directed at Coptic Christians, who form one of the largest Christian populations in the Middle East and North Africa.8 At the local level, government officials often tried to prevent Coptic Christians from improving existing churches or constructing new ones. Officials in the Arbaeen District of the Assiut governorate in Upper Egypt, for example, have long refused to grant a building permit for a new Coptic church even though Egypt’s president and the Ministry of the Interior approved the project many years ago.

Government restrictions also increased substantially in Malaysia, which, like Egypt, already had very high restrictions to begin with. Although the country’s constitution recognizes freedom of religion, Malaysia restricts the observance of Islamic beliefs and practices that do not conform to Sunni Islam. Indeed, the Malaysian government monitors more than 50 Muslim groups that it considers unorthodox, including the Ahmadiyya movement, which some Muslims view as heretical. In some instances, the government sends people who practice “deviant” forms of Islam to religious “rehabilitation” centers. According to the State Department’s 2009 International Religious Freedom report, “The [g]overnment denies individuals the freedom to leave such centers until they complete the program.” The report says the Malaysian government did not release statistics on the number of people sentenced to religious rehabilitation centers during the reporting period.

Five of the countries with substantial increases had high government restrictions to begin with: Algeria, Libya, Tajikistan, Syria and Yemen. The increase in restrictions in these countries often involved religious minorities and/or minority sects of the country’s majority faith. In Yemen, for instance, both Baha’is and Christians were subject to increased government harassment, including imprisonment. Several Yemenis who had converted from Islam to Christianity were arrested in the cities of Sana’a and Hodeida in 2008. They reportedly were arrested for promoting Christianity and distributing Bibles rather than for apostasy, which is a crime punishable by death in Yemen. Members of Yemen’s small Jewish population were threatened on a number of occasions and did not always receive protection from the government. For example, after a prominent member of the Jewish community in Reyda was killed in December 2008, the government “appeared unwilling or unable to increase security for the remaining Jewish population,” the State Department reported.

In Tajikistan, the government in the spring of 2009 arrested hundreds of members of the Islamic missionary movement Tablighi Jama’at, saying the group represented a potential threat to the country’s stability and security. In June 2009, the government also detained 40 people suspected of being members of the Salafi school of Islam, which the government had formally banned in January 2009.9 The arrests and detentions were supported by a 2009 religion law that expanded government controls over religious groups. Among other things, the new law made it more difficult for religious groups to comply with the government’s registration requirements.

Six countries with substantial increases in government restrictions started out with moderate levels of restrictions: Somalia, Qatar, Kyrgyzstan, France, Serbia and Uganda. In Uganda, for example, police in February 2008 detained the head of the New Malta Jerusalem Church, Severino Lukoya, and three of his employees for operating an unregistered church. Lukoya is the father of a former rebel leader, and the government has cited national security concerns as the reason for prohibiting the church from registering.

In several countries with moderate levels of restrictions, governments appeared to step up restrictions that were already in place. Qatar, for example, reportedly began enforcing restrictions on the length and content of sermons in mosques in order to monitor content that might incite listeners to violence.

Government restrictions also increased substantially in Hong Kong, which overall still has low government restrictions on religion. For example, practitioners of the spiritual discipline known as Falun Gong were often turned down by Hong Kong authorities when they asked to use public facilities or spaces for their functions, even though other religious groups were routinely granted such permission. Falun Gong practitioners also reportedly were attacked by security personnel employed by the liaison office of China’s central government during an August 2008 protest. And several people with ties to Falun Gong were prevented from entering the territory, including a U.S. citizen, Leeshai Lemish, who said he was denied entry on July 27, 2008. News reports suggested that Lemish was denied entry because he was serving as a translator and assistant to someone who was researching the persecution of Falun Gong.

Countries with Substantial Decreases in Government Restrictions

Government restrictions on religion decreased substantially in eight countries from mid-2006 to mid-2009. Most of the countries with substantial decreases in restrictions (seven of the eight countries) had low levels of government restrictions to begin with. Only one of the eight countries – Greece – started out with high government restrictions.

restricttwo-19The decline in government restrictions in Greece was not the result of any changes to the country’s laws or policies. Rather, there were fewer reports of restrictive actions by various levels of the government. For example, while Greece continued to restrict proselytizing, there were fewer reported cases where the police detained people for proselytizing. Minority religious groups in Greece continued to face administrative hurdles when trying to obtain permits to operate houses of worship. But during the latest reporting period, they faced fewer hurdles than they had in previous years.

In the seven countries that initially had low government restrictions, there were fewer reports of attempts to restrict the activities of certain sects or religions. For instance, during the period covered by this study, the attorney general of Guinea Bissau overturned efforts to ban the Ahmadiyya Muslim sect, declaring that the ban had no legal basis. In the Pacific island nation of Nauru, ministers and missionaries from minority Christian groups that once were banned from the country – including Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses – have been able to operate with less hindrance in recent years.

Restrictions on public preaching decreased in three of the eight countries with substantial declines in government restrictions: Nauru, Togo and Nicaragua. None of the eight countries had an increase on this measure. In Catholic-majority Nicaragua, for example, the government stopped enforcing a 2006 law – known as the “noise law” – that some evangelical Christian groups claimed was restricting their ability to organize outdoor worship services.

Religious groups faced fewer problems registering in four of the eight countries with substantial declines in government restrictions: Guinea Bissau, Republic of Macedonia, Timor-Leste and Togo. The government of Togo, for instance, did not reject any group’s registration application in the latest period studied.

Use of Government Force against Religious Groups or Individuals

One measure included in the Government Restrictions Index is the level of force governments used against religious groups or individuals. This measure tallies the number of countries in which individuals were killed, physically abused, imprisoned, detained or displaced from their homes for religion-related reasons. It also counts incidents in which individuals had their personal or religious property damaged or destroyed as a result of government actions. The number of countries in which governments used at least some measure of force against religious groups or individuals rose from 91 (46%) in the period ending in mid-2008 to 101 (51%) in the period ending in mid-2009. (See Summary of Results, GRI Q. 19.)

Although scores on the Government Restrictions Index were calculated based on the number of cases of government force in each country, the Pew Forum coders also examined the different types of force governments used. For instance, government force against religious groups led to individuals being killed in 24 countries (12%) in the period ending in mid-2009, about the same number of countries as in the previous reporting period.

restricttwo-20In China, for example, police in Beijing stopped musician Yu Zhou and his wife, poet Xu Na, for speeding on Jan. 26, 2008. After finding Falun Gong materials in their car, the police detained the couple. Yu died in custody 11 days later. He was reportedly tortured, but the police refused to allow an autopsy. His wife was sentenced to three years in prison. In Laos, a Christian man died in July 2008 in the village of Katan in the province of Salavan after authorities reportedly forced him to drink alcohol. His relatives were later fined for conducting a Christian burial service. In Iran, security officers in Isfahan Province on July 17, 2008, raided the home of two Iranian Christians, who later died of injuries inflicted during the raid. And in Syria, human rights activists said at least nine Islamist inmates were killed by prison guards during riots at Sednaya Military Prison near Damascus in July 2008.

Detentions or imprisonments for religious reasons were reported in 78 countries (39%) during the most recent period studied, up from 70 countries (35%) in the period ending in mid-2008. In the East African country of Eritrea, for example, police arrested 22 Jehovah’s Witnesses on June 28, 2009, for holding an unapproved worship service in the city of Asmara. Jehovah’s Witnesses are frequently imprisoned or detained in Eritrea for refusing to do compulsory military service, which is against their religious beliefs. In Afghanistan, where misinterpretation of Islam is a punishable offense, two people were sentenced by a Kabul court in September 2008 to 20 years in prison for publishing a Dari-language translation of the Koran that did not include the parallel Arabic verses for comparison purposes. The court’s decision affirmed arguments made by religious scholars in Afghanistan that the translation misinterpreted verses in the Koran about alcohol, begging, homosexuality and adultery.

Religious groups or individuals had their personal or religious property damaged or destroyed as a result of government actions in 50 countries (25%) in the period ending in mid-2009, up from 29 countries (15%) as of mid-2008. In Vinh Long, Vietnam, for instance, the government tore down the Catholic convent of the Sisters of the Congregation of St. Paul of Chartre in January 2009 and converted the property into a park. In the Iranian city of Isfahan, government authorities used bulldozers to raze the house of worship of a group of Gonabadi (or Sufi) dervishes in February 2009.10 The authorities arrested all of the Sufi Muslims who were present and destroyed all Sufi books and publications on the premises. In Brazil, the municipal government of Salvador de Bahia in 2008 destroyed an Afro-Brazilian Candomblé temple that had been illegally constructed on public land. After reviewing the case, the mayor of Salvador publicly apologized, dismissed the official responsible and had the temple rebuilt.

Tens of thousands of people remained displaced from their homes at least in part because of government policies toward religious groups. Displacements were reported in 45 countries (23%) in the period ending in mid-2009, up from 38 countries (19%) as of mid-2008. In some cases, the number of people displaced reflected the continuing effects of earlier conflicts. In India, for example, an estimated 55,000 Kashmiri families, most of them Hindu, remained in refugee camps as a result of the long-standing conflict in Jammu and Kashmir. Many Hindus reportedly were reluctant to return to their homes because they were afraid they would not be protected by the police, who are primarily Muslim.

Constitutional Protections for Religious Freedom

Nearly all of the 198 countries included in this study either call for freedom of religion in their constitutions or basic laws (143 countries) or protect at least some religious practices (an additional 48 countries). But not all governments fully respect the religious rights written into their laws. More than half of the countries (111, or 56%) include stipulations in their constitution or basic laws that appear to substantially contradict the concept of religious freedom. Afghanistan’s Constitution, for instance, appears to protect its citizens’ right to choose and practice a religion other than Islam. However, the constitution also stipulates that “no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam” and instructs judges to rule according to sharia law if no specific Afghan law applies to a case.

Seven countries – Algeria, Eritrea, Libya, Maldives, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia and Yemen – do not include any provisions for religious freedom in their constitutions or basic laws.11 The Algerian Constitution, for example, establishes Islam as the state religion and forbids practices that are contrary to Islamic ethics.

There appears to be at least some relationship between constitutional protections for religious freedom and overall changes in government restrictions on religion. Among the countries with the least robust constitutional protections for religious freedom – that is, countries whose constitutions contain one or more substantial contradictions concerning religious freedom or provide no protection for it at all – index scores increased in 11 and decreased in only two (more than a five-fold difference). In contrast, among the countries whose constitutions provide for religious freedom without substantial contradictions (including those with limited qualifications), index scores increased in three countries and decreased in six (a two-fold difference).

More specifically, among the countries whose constitutions or basic laws do not provide for religious freedom, government restrictions on religion substantially increased in three (Algeria, Libya and Yemen) and did not decrease in any. In the 111 countries that provide for religious freedom but have substantial contradictions in their constitutions or basic laws (such as limiting religious freedom in order to protect “public morals” or making the nation’s laws conform to one particular religion), government restrictions substantially increased in eight countries (Somalia, Syria, France, Malaysia, Egypt, Qatar, Hong Kong and Serbia) and substantially decreased in two countries (Greece and Nauru).

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However, the pattern is reversed among the 41 countries whose constitutions or basic laws provide for religious freedom without qualification or contradiction. Among these countries, government restrictions decreased in three countries (Timor-Leste, Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of Macedonia) and increased in one (Kyrgyzstan). This pattern is also seen, though more faintly, among the 39 countries whose constitutions or basic laws provide for religious freedom but include limited qualifications, such as the right to limit religious freedom to protect “public order.” Restrictions decreased in three of these countries (Togo, Guinea Bissau and Nicaragua) and increased in two of them (Uganda and Tajikistan).  (The level of government restrictions stayed roughly the same in the vast majority of cases.)

Government Restrictions on Religion by Region

There are major differences among the five regions of the world – Asia-Pacific, Middle East-North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and the Americas – when it comes to government restrictions on religion. On average, government restrictions are highest in the Middle East-North Africa. The median score on the Government Restrictions Index for the 20 countries in the region rose from 5.0 as of mid-2008 to 5.4 as of mid-2009. Sixteen of the 20 countries in the region (80%) had high or very high government restrictions as of mid-2009, and no country had low government restrictions. Six countries in the region (Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Qatar) had substantial increases in government restrictions from mid-2006 to mid-2009, and no country had a substantial decrease.

restricttwo-22The situation in the Asia-Pacific region was more mixed. Overall, the region’s median score on the Government Restrictions Index was 3.7 as of mid-2009, up from 3.3 as of mid-2008. Nineteen of the 51 countries in the region (37%) had high or very high restrictions as of mid-2009, while 23 countries (45%) had low government restrictions. Government restrictions increased substantially in four countries in the region (Hong Kong, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia and Tajikistan) and decreased substantially in two (Nauru and Timor-Leste).

Seven of the 10 countries in the world with very high government restrictions as of mid-2009 were in the Asia-Pacific region: Burma (Myanmar), China, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives and Uzbekistan. Twelve of the 32 countries in the world with high government restrictions also were in this region (Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, India, Laos, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Vietnam). At the same time, some of the least restrictive governments in the world also were found in the Asia-Pacific region, including Japan, Taiwan and Australia.

Europe’s median index score for the period ending in mid-2009 (1.9) was slightly higher than its median score for the period ending in mid-2008 (1.8). Europe’s median score also remained higher than the scores for sub-Saharan Africa or the Americas. This was due in part to former Communist countries in Europe that have replaced state atheism with state-favored religions that are accorded special protections or privileges. All of the European countries with high government restrictions as of mid-2009 were in the East, including Belarus, Bulgaria, Moldova and Russia. (No European country had very high restrictions.) France and Greece had the highest levels of government restrictions in Western Europe, and both fell in the moderate category. France and Serbia were the only European countries to have substantial increases in government restrictions from mid-2006 to mid-2009.

The median level of government restrictions in sub-Saharan Africa is the next-to-lowest of the world’s five major regions. Overall, the median level of government restrictions in sub-Saharan Africa dropped from 1.4 in the period ending in mid-2008 to 1.2 in the period ending in mid-2009. Government restrictions in the region decreased substantially in three countries (Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Togo) and increased substantially in two (Somalia and Uganda). Eritrea had the highest level of restrictions in the region; it was the only sub-Saharan African country with very high restrictions as of mid-2009.

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Of the five regions, the Americas had the lowest median level of government restrictions on religion. Nearly 90% of the countries in the region (31 of the 35 countries) had low government restrictions as of mid-2009. Four countries in the region (Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela and Costa Rica) were in the moderate category. No country in the region had a substantial increase in restrictions from mid-2006 to mid-2009, and restrictions decreased substantially in Nicaragua. Cuba, which continued to have the highest level of government restrictions in the Americas, had a slight but not substantial drop in its score. Canada, the United States and Brazil all continued to have relatively low government restrictions on religion.

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Footnotes:

4 Answers to Questions 1 and 2 in the Government Restrictions Index, which deal with constitutional provisions, were recoded for the period from mid-2006 to mid-2008 to match the coding conventions used from mid-2007 to mid-2009. (For question wording, see Summary of Results.) After the recoding, 40 countries scored in the top 20% on the GRI as of mid-2008 (meaning they had high or very high restrictions) rather than the 43 countries that were listed in the December 2009 baseline report. See Methodology for more details. (return to text)

5 Because the Pew Forum categorized the levels of government restrictions by percentiles, the variance in the number of countries at each level from one period to another is not a meaningful one. The differences reflect how many tie scores there are at different break points. Without the tie scores, the number of countries in each category would be the same from period to period (e.g., the top 20% of scores would equal 40 countries, the bottom 60% of scores would equal 119 countries, etc.). (return to text)

6 For more information on Hizb ut-Tahrir, see the Pew Forum’s September 2010 report Muslim Networks and Movements in Western Europe. (return to text)

7 For more information on the Muslim Brotherhood, see the Pew Forum’s September 2010 report Muslim Networks and Movements in Western Europe. (return to text)

8 The best available census and survey data indicate that Christians now number roughly 5% of the Egyptian population, or about 4 million people. See the Pew Research Center’s “Ask the Expert” entry for Feb. 16, 2011. (return to text)

9 For more information on the Tablighi Jama’at and Salafism, see the Pew Forum’s September 2010 report Muslim Networks and Movements in Western Europe. (return to text)

10 For more information on Sufism, see the Pew Forum’s September 2010 report Muslim Networks and Movements in Western Europe. (return to text)

11 The Eritrean Constitution that was ratified by the National Assembly in 1997 provides for religious freedom, but the government has not yet implemented the constitution. Therefore, there is no effective constitutional protection for religious freedom in Eritrea. (return to text)