In the past decade, 2007 – 2017, social hostilities involving religion – including violence and harassment by individuals, organizations or groups has increased. The Pew Research Centre in its 2019 report has also highlighted significant increase in government restrictions on religion, laws, policies and actions by state officials that restrict religious beliefs and practices. The Centre for its 2019 report focused on the Americas, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Middle East, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.
Latest data shows that 52 countries, including China, Indonesia and Russia have imposed either ‘high’ or ‘very high’ levels of restrictions on religion. The number of countries where people are experiencing the highest levels of social hostilities involving religion has risen from 39 to 56.
According to the Pew Research Centre says government restrictions have risen in several ways. The centre says that laws and policies restricting religious freedom and government favoritism of religious groups have consistently been the most prevalent types of restrictions globally. The report has highlighted India in the fourth category of social hostilities, that is interreligious tension and violence (communal clashes between Hindus and Muslims). It noted a markedly decline since. “By one specific measure, in 2007, 91 countries experienced some level of violence due to tensions between religious groups, but by 2017, that number dropped to 57 countries,” the report said.
However, it cannot be overlooked that ‘religious restrictions’ have been rising around the world. The report says that level of restrictions started high in the Middle East – North African region. But some of the biggest increases over the last decade have been in other regions including Europe, where a growing number of governments have been placing limits on Muslim women’s dress and sub-Saharan Africa, where some groups have tried to impose their religious norms on others through kidnapping and forced conversions. France has also been red marked as it continues to enforce a nationwide ban on full-face coverings in public and local authorities have imposed various restrictions, mostly affecting Muslim women. Qatar falls in the same category due to laws that target non-Islamic faiths by restricting public worship, the display of religious symbols and proselytization.
Furthermore, some governments recognize only a specific set of religious groups and deny registration to others. Moreover, bureaucratic hurdles create cumbersome registration processes that disadvantage particular groups, such as in Eritrea, the government recognizes on four religious groups – Eritrean Orthodox Church, Sunni Islam, the Roman Catholic Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Eritrea. China is another example, where certain religious groups are allowed to register with the government and hold worship services. The groups should belong to the ‘five-state sponsored patriotic religious associations – Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Catholic and Protestant. However, there have been reports about the Chinese government crackdown on Muslims.