New Pew Research Center Report Reveals Steady Increase in Global Religious Persecution

Pew Research Center, one of the leading American think takes that provides information on general public opinion and demographic statistics, released a report on November 10, 2020 in which they confirm what has already been the fear of human rights and religious freedom advocates worldwide: rates of religious persecution are currently at the highest they have been in over ten years. Pew’s research tracked changes in religious persecution trends since 2007, a time during which the global median score on the Government Restrictions Index 1.8 (out of 10 points). The median score recorded for eleven years later in 2018, however, was 2.9 (out of 10 points), emphasizing just how much religious persecution trends have taken a turn for the worse.

Also as of 2018, 56 countries (26% of all nations) were recorded to have “high” or “very high” government restrictions on religion, up from 52 countries in 2017. The majority of these repressive nations are located in the Asia-Pacific, Middle East, and North Africa regions. The Asia-Pacific region experienced the most drastic increase in religious persecution (3.8 median score in 2017 to 4.4 in 2018), as in many nations such as China, North Korea, South Korea, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Vietnam, India, and Pakistan, we have observed concerning trends: arbitrary detention and prolonged imprisonment of religious/spiritual minorities, forced internal and external displacement of religious communities, extrajudicial killings, desecration and demolition of religious/spiritual locations, harassment and surveillance, and more.

“Some countries in the Asia-Pacific region saw all-time highs in their overall government restrictions scores. This includes China, which continued to have the highest score on the Government Restrictions Index (GRI) out of all 198 countries and territories in the study. China has been near the top of the list of most restrictive governments in each year since the inception of the study, and in 2018 it reached a new peak in its score (9.3 out of 10).”

Pew does describe the recent exponential increase in religious persecution in Tajikistan, where Jehovah’s Witnesses are harassed, questioned, and pressured into renunciation of their religion. In India, Christians and Muslims have been subjected to hate speech, false accusations and convictions of blasphemy, and are repeatedly excluded from legal protections. In Thailand, police detained large groups of religious minority immigrants who fled from the state of persecution in their own nation; Vietnamese Christian Montagnards and Pakistani Ahmadi Muslims were the most common within these groups of detainees.

Other regions of particular interest with regards to their increase in the GRI score over the past decade are the Middle East/North Africa (6.2 points) region and the Sub-Saharan Africa (2.7 points) region, the latter of which regions is where more than 80% of countries “experienced some form of government harassment of religious groups, and 29% had reports of governments using physical coercion against religious minorities.”

Contrastingly, with regards to the Social Hostilities Index, the global median score of social hostilities decreased from 2.1 in 2017 to 2.0 in 2018. These statistics are mostly due in part to the trend of decreasing social hostilities in a few specific regions: Europe, Asia-Pacific, and Middle East/North Africa.

Listed below are some other important findings of the Pew Research Center report:

  • Authoritarian regimes have a positive association with increasing government restrictions on religion.
  • Social hostilities do not always correlate with government restrictions. In some authoritarian states with high government restrictions on religion but with low rates of social hostility.
  • Out of the list of nations with “very high” government restrictions on religion, 65% were authoritarian regimes, 12% were hybrid regimes, and 12% were “flawed democracies.”
  • “The five countries categorized as full democracies with high levels of social hostilities are all in Europe – Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United States – and all had reports of anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents.”
  • Harassment of religious groups continues to be reported in 185 out 198 (93%) of the world’s nations.
  • “As in previous years, Christians and Muslims experienced harassment in more countries than any other religious groups in 2018. This pattern has remained consistent since the study began in 2007.”
  • Jews faced harassment in 88 countries
  • Hindus faced harassment in 19 countries
  • “Buddhists experienced the largest increase of any single religious group in the number of countries where they faced harassment, from 19 in 2017 to 24 in 2018 – the highest number since the study began in 2007.”

To view Pew Research Center’s report in its entirety, click here.

Image by Scouts Falcón on Flickr.