Religious harassment worsening across world, Pew study shows

Government restrictions on religion have increased in many places around the world -- not only under authoritarian countries but also in democracies, most notably in Europe, according to a report released Monday.

Of the 198 countries surveyed, Pew Research Center found that 143 harassed Christians, while 140 did so to Muslims. The study showed that the number of populous countries, like China and Russia, that impose "high" or "very high" levels of restriction rose from 40 to 52 over the decade surveyed as part of Pew's 10th annual Report on Global Restrictions on Religion. The report covered developments from 2007 to 2017.

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Pew said the Middle East and North Africa, of the five major regions it studied, had the highest level of government restrictions on religion, followed by the Asia-Pacific region. However, it said the biggest increase during the period was in Europe, where the number of countries placing restrictions on religious dress — including burqas and face veils worn by some Muslim women — rose from 5 to 20 percent.

In addition to the burqa bans, countries like Spain have restricted public preaching and proselytizing by groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Countries with the highest levels of restrictions were China, Iran, Russia, Egypt, and Indonesia, whereas the lowest levels were South Africa, Japan, the Phillippines, Brazil, and South Korea.

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The Pew report comes as the U.S. State Department is hosting a three-day Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom which began Tuesday in Washington, D.C., attended by government officials, religious leaders, and other participants from regions around the world.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, Tuesday, July 16, 2019, at the U.S. State Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, Tuesday, July 16, 2019, at the U.S. State Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

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Pew’s annual reports are compiled by researchers who annually comb through numerous sources of information, including annual reports on international religious freedom by the State Department and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, as well as publications by European, U.N. bodies and nongovernmental organizations.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.