“Muslims and Jews experienced six-year highs in the number of countries in which they were harassed by national, provincial or local governments,” the study found, but Christians continue to be the world’s most oppressed religious group, with persecution against them reported in 110 countries.
A recent report by the Christian group Open Doors noted that “North Korea remains the world’s most restrictive nation in which to practice Christianity,” followed by Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Pakistan, Iran and Yemen.
More than “5.3 billion people (76% of the world’s population) live in countries with a high or very high level of restrictions on religion,” Pew noted, “up from 74% in 2011 and 68% as of mid-2007.”
A fifth of the world's nations (20%) also experienced religious terrorism or sectarian violence in 2012, Pew researchers found, which was “up markedly from 2007 (9%).”
President Obama expressed hope that the “Arab Spring” would give rise to greater religious freedom in North Africa and the Middle East, which has had the world’s highest level of hostility towards religion in every year since 2007, when Pew first began measuring it. However, the study finds that these regions actually experienced the largest increase in religious hostilities in 2012.
Across the six years that Pew has conducted the study, Christians were being harassed for their faith in 151 countries and Muslims in 135. Together they represent the world’s two largest religious groups and more than half of the world’s population.
Jews, who make up less than 1% of the world’s population, experienced religious persecution in 95 countries. Researchers also found an increase in religious harassment in countries where Hindus, Buddhists or followers of other traditional religions predominated.
"Among the world's 25 most populous countries, Egypt, Indonesia, Russia, Pakistan and Burma (Myanmar) had the most restrictions on religion in 2012,” the report stated. Pakistan had the highest level of social hostilities involving religion, while Egypt had the highest level of government restrictions on religious practice, Pew found.
Syria, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand and Burma rose to the “very high” level of social hostility towards religion last year.
Women were harassed about the way they dressed due to religious reasons in almost a third of all countries in 2012 – up from less than 7 percent in 2007.
This is the fourth report by Pew Research Center analyzing the global issue of freedom to practice religious beliefs. “As part of the original study, published in 2009, Pew Research developed two indexes – a Government Restrictions Index and a Social Hostilities Index – that were used to gauge government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion in nearly 200 countries and territories,” Pew says.
That first report created a baseline for each country, broken down into five geographic regions. Subsequent reports have looked at changes in restrictions and hostilities in the individual countries, as well as in the regions to which they belong.