For the first time in three years, government-sanctioned restrictions against religion has increased rather than decreased, a Pew Research Center study published Tuesday finds.
The annual report examined global laws, policies, and actions that restrict religious freedoms, as well as religiously antagonistic acts perpetrated by private organizations and individuals. It determined that hostility toward particular religious groups has increased by 1 percentage point in the public sphere, and 4 percentage points in the private sphere.
This aggression isn’t contained to any single part of the world. Of the 198 countries studied, 53 percent of them experienced “widespread government harassment of religious groups.” In four of the five geographic regions studied — the Middle East and North Africa, Asia and the Pacific, sub-Saharan Africa and Europe — restrictions were linked to a “surge in government harassment and use of force against religious groups.”
In 2014, 34 percent of countries around the world had a “high” or “very high” number of policies the Pew Center considered restrictive to religious minorities; by 2015 that percentage increased to 40.
“The global rise in social hostilities reflected a number of factors,” the study states, “including increases in mob violence related to religion, individuals being assaulted or displaced due to their faith, and incidents where violence was used to enforce religious norms.”
Specifically, Pew points to hostility in Europe, where reported incidents of religion-related mob violence increased from nine in 2014 to 17 the next year, and to sub-Saharan Africa, where hostility toward albino populations reported in 25 countries led to an increase in the persecution of those people by witch doctors.
The largest increases in state-sanctioned harassment of religious groups — particularly against Muslims — occurred in Europe. Both France and Russia saw more than 200 documented cases of government force against religious groups thanks to policies like banning head coverings in public spaces and jailing people for freely exercising religious beliefs.
The Pew researchers point out that an increase in emotional violence and verbal harassment perpetrated by public officials is linked in part to the influx of refugees. Over 1.3 million migrants applied for asylum in Europe in 2015; more than half of those people came from Muslim-majority countries like Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq.