Pew Research: One in four countries hostile to religious faith

Shahzad Masih and Shama Bibi were murdered by an anti-Christian mob in Pakistan.

One in four countries is hostile to people of religious faith with violent attacks including vandalism, desecration of sacred texts and violent assaults sometimes leading to death.

The latest research from the Pew Research Centre on religious hostilities shows that the number of countries with social hostility fell from one in three in 2012 to about one in four in 2013.

However the number of countries with state restrictions on religion remained high, at 27 per cent in 2013 compared to 29 per cent in 2012.

The restrictions included controls on religious groups and individuals such as registration requirements. There was also state discrimination and in some places, outright bans.

Pew estimates that about 5.5 billion people, or 77 per cent of the world's population, live in countries with high or very high restrictions on religion, an increase on previous years.

Highest restrictions were in countries such as Burma, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan and Russia. China had the highest level of government restrictions in 2013, and India had the highest level of social hostilities.

Christians and Muslims, who together make up more than half of the global population, faced harassment in the largest number of countries. Christians were harassed, either by government or social groups, in 102 of the 198 countries included in the study, while Muslims were harassed in 99 countries.

There was also a marked increase in the number of countries, 77, where Jews were harassed. Jews were more likely to be targeted by individuals or groups than governments.

North Korea was not included in the study because of the difficulty of obtaining accurate information.