February 26, 2015

Latest Trends in Religious Restrictions and Hostilities

Situation as of 2013

Countries With the Most Extensive Government Restrictions on Religion

Countries With Very High Government Restrictions on ReligionMost countries in the world have some form of government restrictions on religion, but each year a few countries stand out as having particularly extensive restrictions.

In 2013, 18 countries had a “very high” level of government restrictions, down from 24 countries in 2012. Most of the countries in this category – including China, Indonesia, Uzbekistan, Iran and Egypt – already had very high restrictions. Two countries – Singapore and Turkey – had very high government restrictions in 2013 but not in 2012. Eight countries that had very high government restrictions in 2012 did not in 2013: Algeria, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Maldives, Morocco, Pakistan, Somalia and Vietnam.

The number of countries with high or moderate government restrictions each went up slightly between 2012 and 2013 (from 33 to 36 and from 36 to 44, respectively). Meanwhile, 98 countries (49%) had low levels of government restrictions in 2013, about the same number as in 2012 (97 countries). For a complete list of all countries in each category, see the Government Restrictions Index table.3

Countries With the Most Extensive Religious Hostilities

Countries With Very High Social Hostilities Involving ReligionAs is the case with government restrictions, some countries stand out for having very extensive social hostilities involving religion.

The number of countries and territories with a “very high” level of social hostilities involving religion fell from 20 in 2012 to 17 in 2013. Most of the countries and territories in this category – including Israel, India, Pakistan, the Palestinian territories and Nigeria – already had very high social hostilities. Two countries – the Central African Republic and Tanzania – had very high social hostilities in 2013 but not in 2012. Five countries that had very high social hostilities in 2012 did not in 2013: Burma (Myanmar), Lebanon, Sudan, Thailand and Yemen.

The number of countries with a high level of social hostilities fell from 45 (23%) in 2012 to 36 (18%) in 2013. The number of countries with a moderate level of social hostilities stayed about the same (55 in 2013 vs. 57 in 2012). Meanwhile, 90 countries (45%) had low levels of social hostilities in 2013, compared with 76 countries (38%) in 2012. For a complete list of all countries in each category, see the Social Hostilities Index table.4

Changes in Government Restrictions on Religion

Changes in Government Restrictions on ReligionEach year, some countries experience significant changes in their scores on the Government Restrictions Index without necessarily rising into – or falling out of – the “very high restrictions” category. Looking only at countries with very high government restrictions would overlook these important dynamics. For this reason, the Pew Research Center analyzes changes in government restrictions among all countries – not just those with a very high level of government restrictions – in order to provide greater insight into the nature of government restrictions on religion around the world.

Just three countries had large changes (2.0 points or more) in their scores on the 10-point Government Restrictions Index between 2012 and 2013. Two countries – Burundi and South Sudan – moved in the direction of higher restrictions and one country (Somalia) moved in direction of lower restrictions.5 (As of 2013, South Sudan and Somalia had moderate levels of government restrictions, while Burundi was at the high end of the “low restrictions” category.) In Burundi, there were frequent clashes between government forces and members of an informal religious group over access to a shrine to the Virgin Mary in the Kayanza region, located in the northern part of the country. Members of the group identify themselves as Catholics, but they are not accepted by the Catholic Church because some members claim they can communicate directly with the Virgin Mary.6 In March 2013, 10 pilgrims to the shrine were killed and 35 were injured when police opened fire on them, reportedly after being hit by stones thrown by the worshippers. Nearly 200 visitors to the shrine received jail sentences after being convicted of civil disobedience. While most were released within a few days, 15 received jail terms of five years each.7

Among the 14 countries with modest changes in their GRI scores (1.0 to 1.9 points), six had increases, including Singapore and Turkey.8 In Singapore, the government maintained its decades-long ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Unification Church and reportedly restricted the actions of members of several other religious groups, including adherents of the Falun Gong spiritual movement.9 In Turkey, some evangelical Protestants and Mormons reported that they experienced government surveillance and police interference as a result of their proselytizing activities.10 The United Kingdom was one of eight countries (4%) with modest decreases in their GRI scores in 2013 (declines of 1.0 to 1.9 points).11 Among the reasons were fewer restrictions on those practicing Scientology. Under a 1970 Court of Appeal ruling, Scientology did not qualify as an officially recognized “place of meeting for religious worship” in the U.K., which meant, among other things, that weddings performed in Scientology chapels could not be officially registered. This policy was overturned in 2013, when the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom ruled that Scientology should be regarded as a religion and that the Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages should therefore recognize weddings that take place in Scientology chapels.12

Among countries with small changes on the Government Restrictions Index (less than one point), 66 (33%) had increases and 77 (39%) had decreases.

Considering changes of one point or more in government restrictions from 2012 to 2013, 4% of countries had increases and 5% of countries had decreases.

Changes in Social Hostilities Involving Religion

Changes in Social Hostilities Involving ReligionSome countries may experience significant changes in their scores on the Social Hostilities Index irrespective of whether they have “very high” levels of social hostilities. This section looks at the extent and direction of those changes from 2012 to 2013.

Among the 14 countries with large changes (2.o points or more) in their scores on the 10-point Social Hostilities Index between 2012 and 2013, two had increases and 12 had decreases.13 The two countries with large increases were the Central African Republic and Niger. In the Central African Republic, which had a very high level of social hostilities as of 2013, sectarian violence between Muslim rebels and Christian vigilante groups resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people and led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians.14 In Niger, which had a high level of hostilities, villagers in the Tahoua region attacked members of an Islamic association in May 2013, killing one person and injuring more than a dozen others.15

Ivory Coast was one of the 12 countries where social hostilities decreased by two points or more in 2013. Religion-related violence in the country, which had spiked after presidential elections in 2010, continued to subside in 2013.16 Muslim and Christian clerics issued joint statements promoting national reconciliation and religious tolerance and organized a number of interfaith events, including “days of prayer” intended to promote national unity.17

Of the 53 countries (27%) that had modest changes (1.0 to 1.9 points) in their scores in 2013, 11 (6%) had increases and 42 (21%) had decreases. In the 86 countries (43%) that had small changes in their scores (less than one point), 22 (11%) had increases and 64 (32%) had decreases.

Considering changes of one point or more in social hostilities from 2012 to 2013, 7% of countries had increases and 27% had decreases.

Changes in Overall Restrictions on Religion

Overall Changes in Global Restrictions on ReligionIn addition to analyzing government restrictions and social hostilities separately, the Pew Research Center also considers government restrictions and social hostilities together. This provides insight into the overall extent of religious restrictions in a country. Looking at changes in overall restrictions, more countries experienced decreases than increases between 2012 and 2013. Among the 13 countries whose scores changed by 2.0 points or more on either of the indexes, two had increases and 11 had decreases. And among countries whose scores changed by 1.0 to 1.9 points, 10 had increases and 37 had decreases.

Overall, restrictions increased at least somewhat in 25% of countries and decreased in 60% from 2012 to 2013.

Harassment of Specific Groups

Number of Countries Where Religious Groups Were Harassed, by YearHarassment or intimidation of specific religious groups occurred in 164 countries in 2013, roughly the same as in 2012 (166). 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.

Harassment of specific religious groups takes many forms, including physical assaults; arrest and detentions; desecration of holy sites; and discrimination against religious groups in employment, education and housing. Harassment and intimidation also include things such as verbal assaults on members of one religious group by other groups or individuals.

While Christians and Muslims were harassed in the most countries in 2013, the total number of countries where the two groups were harassed dropped between 2012 and 2013. Christians were harassed in 102 countries in 2013, down from 110 in the previous year.18 Muslims were harassed in 99 countries, compared with 109 in 2012.

There was a notable increase in the number of countries in which Jews and adherents of folk religions were harassed. Jews, who make up 0.2% of the world’s population, were harassed in 77 countries (up from 71 countries in 2012), and adherents of folk religions were harassed in 34 countries (up from 26 in 2012).

There was a decrease in the number of countries in which Hindus were harassed, from 16 in 2012 to nine in 2013. The number of countries in which Buddhists were harassed stayed roughly the same (12 in 2013, compared with 13 in 2012).

In 2013, some religious groups were more likely to be harassed by governments, while others were more likely to be harassed by individuals or groups in society. Christians, for instance, experienced harassment by some level of government in more countries (85) than they experienced social harassment (71). By contrast, Jews were harassed by individuals or groups in society in many more countries (72) than they were by governments (39).

Number of Countries Where Religious Groups Were Harassed, by Type of Harassment

  1. Countries with a “very high” level of government restrictions had positive scores on at least 13 of the 20 questions that make up the Government Restrictions .
  2. Countries with “very high” social hostilities had positive scores on at least nine of the 13 questions that make up the Social Hostilities Index.
  3. The change in Somalia’s score on the Government Restrictions Index might not be as significant as it appears due to changes in the way certain activities within the country were coded. See the Methodology for more details.
  4. See Human Rights Watch. July 26, 2013. “Burundi: Shot, Beaten Near Prayer Site.
  5. See U.S. Department of State. July 28, 2014. “Burundi.” 2013 Report on International Religious Freedom. Also see al-Saadi, Ali. April 13, 2013. “Burundi court jails 182 followers of Catholic cult.” Agence France-Presse.
  6. The six countries that had increases of 1.0 to 1.9 points were: Sweden, Singapore, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Kosovo and Turkey (ordered from largest to smallest change).
  7. See U.S. Department of State. July 28, 2014. “Singapore.” 2013 Report on International Religious Freedom. Also see Freedom House. 2014. “Singapore.” 2014 Freedom in the World Report.
  8. See U.S. Department of State. July 28, 2014. “Turkey.” 2013 Report on International Religious Freedom.
  9. The eight countries that had decreases of 1.0 to 1.9 points were: Maldives, Chad, Croatia, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Venezuela, Malawi and Eritrea (ordered from largest to smallest change).
  10. See U.S. Department of State. May 20, 2013. “United Kingdom.” 2012 Report on International Religious Freedom. Also see U.S. Department of State. July 28, 2014. “United Kingdom.” 2013 Report on International Religious Freedom. Also see The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. Dec. 11, 2013. “Press Summary: R (on the application of Hodkin and another) v Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages (2013) UKSC 77.
  11. The 12 countries that had decreases of 2.0 or more points were: Mali, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Guinea, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Madagascar, Uganda, Jordan, Italy and Vietnam (ordered from largest to smallest change).
  12. See U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. 2014. “Central African Republic.” 2014 Annual Report. Also see Human Rights Watch. 2014. “Central African Republic.” 2014 World Report.
  13. See U.S. Department of State. July 28, 2014. “Niger.” 2013 Report on International Religious Freedom.
  14. See Freedom House. 2013. “Côte d’Ivoire.” Freedom in the World 2013.
  15. See U.S. Department of State. July 28, 2014. “Ivory Coast.” 2013 Report on International Religious Freedom.
  16. The number of countries in which Christians were harassed in the year ending Dec. 31, 2012, might be somewhat inflated due to a coding error. Therefore, some of the decline in the number of countries in which Christians were harassed might reflect refinements of the coding procedures.