Christians face harassment in 143 countries, according to major new research. The latest Annual Pew Report uncovers a record increase in restrictions on religion imposed by many governments around the world. It also finds violence and harassment against religious groups are on the rise.
Release International, which supports persecuted Christians around the world, welcomes the report but is concerned it omits North Korea and is behind the times on China where persecution is intensifying.
‘The report reinforces the excellent new review of Christian persecution by the Bishop of Truro which has now been accepted by the government,’ says Paul Robinson of Release International. ‘Release was pleased to contribute research for that report.
‘Release also welcomes this latest Pew report, but the sheer breadth of their investigation means it is behind the times. From our own findings, we would say that insufficient emphasis is placed on the growing restrictions in China and the severe persecution of Christians in North Korea.’
The Bishop of Truro’s Review for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) found that Christians were the most persecuted religious group in the world today. In contrast, the annual Pew Report is wider in its focus, looking at restrictions on all religions.
It states: ‘Religious restrictions have been rising around the world for the past decade.’ Fifty-two governments, including China, Indonesia and Russia, are now imposing high or very high levels of restrictions on religion.
‘These findings are very disturbing,’ says Paul Robinson of Release. ‘But the research stops at 2017. The following year, China imposed even tougher new restrictions to clamp down on Christians in their country. As a consequence, the persecution levels in China are even higher than this research reveals.’
The Pew Report notes that the Chinese government ‘ramped up efforts to arrest and deport Christian missionaries’. And it highlights that China is restricting the number of religious groups who can register with the government to hold worship services.
‘But in the past year, Release International has had increasing reports from China that even registered Christian churches are being shut down by the government, as new religious restrictions take hold,’ says Paul Robinson.
The Pew Report states that since 2015, Islam has been the most common state religion around the world. In the Middle East and North Africa, most governments favour Islam over other faiths.
It is here where growing numbers of countries are restricting religion. According to the Pew Report: ‘The number of countries [in the region] where people experience the highest level of hostility towards religion has risen by almost 50 per cent.’
The survey of 198 countries also finds religious restrictions and violence are spreading to Europe. It cites a case in the United Kingdom in 2016, where a Sunni Muslim man killed an Ahmadi Muslim shopkeeper because he had ‘disrespected the Prophet Mohammed’.
Religious terrorism is growing in Europe and the Middle East and North Africa. According to the Report: ‘The Middle East and North Africa has seen the highest levels of religious violence by organised groups.’
That violence has spread from just four countries in 2007 to 11 of the 20 countries in the region by the end of the reporting period in 2017. Organised groups spreading religious violence include Isis, Al Qaeda, the Taliban and Hamas.
Among the most populous countries in the world, Egypt, India, Russia, Pakistan and Indonesia have the highest restrictions on religion, according to the report.
Another region to experience ‘a sharp rise in government laws and policies restricting religious freedom’ is Sub-Saharan Africa.
The report singles out Nigeria as a country with one of the largest increases in religious violence by organised groups since 2007.
In Central Asia, Turkmenistan continues to deny visas to foreigners suspected of missionary work. Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have all imposed restrictions on Christian literature.
And in the Asia-Pacific region, according to the Report 86 per cent of countries’ governments were found to be intimidating religious groups in in the region.
Through its international network of missions Release International is active in more than 30 countries around the world, supporting pastors, Christian prisoners and their families; supplying Christian literature and Bibles, and working for justice.