Christians face harassment in over 160 countries as restrictions reach record levels: Pew study

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(CP) In an alarming trend, Christians experienced harassment in 160 countries in 2021, according to a comprehensive study of 190 countries published by the Pew Research Center, which revealed that government restrictions on religion also reached an all-time high.

The study, which is part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, showed that both government actions and social hostilities contributed to the harassment of religious groups. Government restrictions on religion reached an all-time high, with 183 countries imposing various forms of limitations, the highest number since the study began in 2007.

Christians, as the largest religious group globally, faced harassment in various forms, from derogatory statements to physical violence.

The study found that Christians were harassed by governments in 160 countries, an increase from 155 in the previous year. This harassment ranged from subtle forms of discrimination to overt acts of violence and oppression.

Muslims faced harassment in 141 countries, down from 145 in 2020.

Jews were harassed by governments and social groups or individuals in 91 countries in 2021, down from 94 countries in 2020, the third highest total of any religious group, the study said, noting that Jews make up just 0.2% of the world's population.

In terms of physical harassment, which included property damage, assaults on people, detentions, displacements and killings, the study reported incidents in 137 countries, with governments being the primary perpetrators in 100 of these.

Property damage was the most common type of physical harassment, occurring in 105 countries. Europe had the highest share of countries reporting property damage related to religion, with incidents such as the closure of 21 mosques in France and attacks on Catholic and Jewish sites in Poland.

Physical assaults on individuals due to their religious beliefs were reported in 91 countries. In the Middle East and North Africa, assaults were particularly prevalent, with 75% of countries in the region reporting such incidents, including a missile attack on a Sunni-majority mosque in Yemen.

Detentions related to religious beliefs were reported in 77 countries, with the Middle East-North Africa region having the highest share of countries reporting such incidents. In Sri Lanka, 311 individuals remained imprisoned without formal charges for alleged connections to the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings.

Government restrictions on religion — laws, policies and actions by state officials that limit religious beliefs and practices — reached a new peak globally, according to the analysis.

The global median level of government restrictions on religion increased to 3.0 in 2021, up from 2.8 in 2020, indicating a tightening of control over religious practices. However, the global median level of social hostilities involving religion decreased slightly, from 1.8 in 2020 to 1.6 in 2021.

In 2021, 55 countries, accounting for 28% of the total, experienced "high" or "very high" levels of government restrictions. This was a slight decrease from the 57 countries, or 29%, that reached this level in 2020, 2019 and 2012. Despite this slight decrease, the overall median index score for all countries increased due to a greater number of countries showing an increase in index scores compared to those showing a decrease, the study said.

The study also highlighted the dual nature of government actions regarding religion. While imposing restrictions and engaging in harassment, governments in 161 countries provided benefits to religious organizations, such as funding for religious education and maintenance of religious buildings. This paradoxical situation raises questions about the motivations behind government policies toward religious groups.

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