(CNSNews.com) – Muslim-majority countries score worst across a range of measures in a comprehensive new study tracking government restrictions on religion as well as social hostilities involving religion around the world.
The study by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, released Tuesday, found that nearly one-third of the world’s population lives in countries where religion-related government restrictions or social hostilities rose significantly between mid-2006 and mid-2009.
Geographically, the Middle East/North Africa region boasted the largest proportion of countries – 30 percent – where official restrictions on religion increased over that three-year period.
Digging deeper, the 117-page report reveals that countries belonging to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) dominate many of the most serious measures tracked at the end of the survey period in mid-2009.
Seven of the ten countries with the highest – that is, worst – grades when it comes to government restrictions on religion were OIC countries – Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Maldives, Malaysia and Indonesia. The other three were China, Burma and Eritrea.
Of the 10 countries on that benchmark index, six are designated by the U.S. government as “countries of particular concern” for religious freedom violations – Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan.
A separate index in the Pew report graded countries according to levels of social hostility involving religion. Eight of the top ten countries in that index were Muslim-majority states – Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Egypt. The other two, India and Israel, have Hindu and Jewish majorities respectively, and large Muslim minorities.
In an index measuring official interference with religious practice, 18 out of 26 countries (69 percent) whose government “prohibits worship or religious practices of one or more religious groups as a general policy,” were OIC members – Brunei, Chad, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
The other eight were Burma, China, Eritrea, Laos, Madagascar, Monaco, Tuvalu and Vietnam.
A grading of countries where conversion from one religion to another is restricted was also dominated by Islamic states, accounting for 25 out of 29 countries listed (86 percent). They were Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Comoros, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and Yemen.
The four non-Muslim countries were Eritrea, India, Israel and Vietnam.
Taking the conversion issue a step further, among 13 countries where there were incidents of physical violence over conversions from one religion to another, 10 (77 percent) were Muslim – Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Comoros, Egypt, Jordan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria. The other three were India, Mongolia and Nepal.
Sixteen out of 26 countries/territories where “religion-related terrorist groups” perpetrated violence that resulted in ten or more injuries or deaths” were OIC members – Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Mauritania, Niger, Pakistan, Palestinian territories, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Uzbekistan and Yemen
The 10 non-Muslim countries were Central African Republic, China, Congo, Ethiopia, India, Israel, Nepal, Philippines, Russia and Sri Lanka. (The report does not provide a breakdown of actual attacks, but in at least some of those countries – India, Israel, the Philippines and Russia – terror activity is largely attributed to Islamist groups.)
The Pew report also examined the issue of “defamation” of religion, tracking countries where various penalties are enforced for apostasy, blasphemy or criticism of religions.
“While such laws are sometimes promoted as a way to protect religion, in practice they often serve to punish religious minorities whose beliefs are deemed unorthodox or heretical,” it said.
It found 21 Muslim countries in that category – Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Brunei, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Maldives, Morocco, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Western Sahara and Yemen.
The study also found 23 non-Muslim countries where penalties are enforced for such criticism of religion – Austria, Brazil, Burma, El Salvador, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Greece, Honduras, Iceland, India, Italy, Malta, Mauritius, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, Samoa, Singapore, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
“Eight-in-ten countries in the Middle East-North Africa region have laws against blasphemy, apostasy or defamation of religion, the highest share of any region,” it said. “These penalties are enforced in 60 percent of the countries in the region. In Europe, nearly four-in-ten countries (38 per cent) have such laws and nearly a third (31 per cent) actively enforces them.”
The report did not, however, draw a distinction between the types of penalties enforced in Muslim and non-Muslim countries for breaching these laws.
A study by Human Rights First, released last March, documented more than 70 cases in 15 countries where the enforcement of blasphemy laws resulted in problems of various kinds since 2007.
Of the 70 cases, only four were not in Muslim countries. They were in Austria (where a woman was fined for “denigrating” Islam during a lecture); India (where nine people were charged over a magazine article said to have injured the sentiments of Hindus); Sri Lanka (where a convert from Buddhism to Islam was accused of offending Buddhism); and Poland (where a provocative rock star was accused of insulting religious sentiments in the predominantly Catholic country).
By contrast, the vast majority of the cases documented in the report took place in Islamic countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan – and included lengthy prison terms and the imposition of the death penalty, as well as extrajudicial retribution such as mob attacks and killings.
One country that did not feature in the Pew survey’s country scores was North Korea – not because it is not a problem, but because of difficulties obtaining accurate information in the reclusive Stalinist state.
“The sources clearly indicate that the government of North Korea is among the most repressive in the world with respect to religion as well as other civil liberties,” the report said. “But because North Korean society is effectively closed to outsiders, the sources are unable to provide the kind of specific and timely information that the Pew Forum coded in this quantitative study.”
The religious freedom advocacy group Open Doors has listed North Korea at No. 1 on its annual World Watch List of countries most hostile to Christians for the past nine consecutive years.
The rest of the top 10 on its 2011 list were Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Maldives, Yemen, Iraq, Uzbekistan and Laos. Apart from communist Laos, all are OIC member-states.