Over 500 anti-Christian hate crimes were carried out across Europe in 2021, according to a new report by the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe (OIDAC).
The crimes were recorded across 19 European countries and included the murder of four Christians and 14 physical assaults.
The most common recorded anti-Christian hate crime was vandalism, with 300 cases of "graffiti, damage to property, and desecration" of churches and Christian buildings.
This was followed by 80 thefts involving church equipment, communion and other religious objects, and church equipment. There were 60 arsons or attempted arsons.
In total there were 519 recorded anti-Christian hate crimes last year but the Austria-based organisation believes the real number is likely to be far higher because of a "chilling effect" among victims and "lack of media coverage". Overall it reflects a considerable decrease on the nearly 1,000 recorded the previous year.
France suffered the highest number of anti-Christian hate crimes (124), followed by Germany (112), Italy (92), Poland (60) and the UK (40).
In addition to violent crimes, the study also documented the "increasing phenomenon of self-censorship" by Christians "in response to perceived intolerance towards their beliefs".
Self-censorship was identified across education, the workplace, the public sphere, media platforms and private social interactions.
"Christian-led organisations were banned from social media platforms for expressing dissenting beliefs, while insult and violent speech against Christians were permitted on the same platforms," said OIDAC.
Christians were on the receiving end of "negative stereotyping" and "insensitivity" by the media and political groups, a trend identified in particular in relation to Catholics in Spain.
"Ambiguously-worded" 'hate speech' laws and public order legislation have "undermined" free speech rights and led to the "unjustified" arrest of street preachers primarily in the UK.
Another area of concern is the emergence of "buffer zones" around abortion clinics in the UK, Germany and Spain.
"This criminalizes activities including prayer vigils, conversations with the public, and other forms of peaceful activism," OIDAC said.
Doctors and medical workers are reported to be growing increasingly concerned about the removal of "conscientious objection" clauses at work, while parental rights are coming under threat from laws governing so-called conversion therapy and sex education in schools.
"These laws are often based on gender theory and employ imprecise language that could result in the criminalisation of dissenting discussions in both public and private context, including private prayer," the report said.
"New trans-laws and abortion laws give minors autonomy to decide to undergo an abortion or gender transition without parental consent, violating parental rights."
Concern was also expressed about the scope of Covid-19 regulations and lockdown measures that led to "unjustifiable and discriminatory treatment" with the suspension of church services and in some cases, even private worship.
"In Spain, France and some German cities, misleading statements made by the media and politicians led to a stigmatisation of Evangelical churches and groups, which were labelled 'COVID-19 spreaders' during the pandemic," OIDAC said.