By Jim Fair

Whether you are Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, or practice one of the world’s other religions, the right to practice your faith is a fundamental, cherished right.  Unfortunately, government restrictions on the practice of religion are increasing at an alarming rate.

In 2018, the global median level of government restrictions on religion – that is, laws, policies, and actions by officials that impinge on religious beliefs and practices – continued to climb, reaching an all-time high since Pew Research Center began tracking these trends in 2007.

Pew’s latest report was issued on November 10, 2020.

According to the Pew report, 56 countries — 28 percent of the planet’s nations — have governments that present a high or very high threat to religious practice. Those threats include property damage, detention, displacement, abuse, and killings.

At the top of the government interference list is China, following closely by Iran.  Rounding out the “top” 10 are Malaysia, Maldives, Syria, Russia, Algeria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Egypt. The groups most frequently suffering government intervention are Christians and Muslims.

The report suggests that persecution is highest in Asia and Africa, with increasing severity in the Asian region.  The majority of nations in the North African region had at least one case of government interference with religion in 2018.

A few examples cited in the report:

In Armenia,  a prominent member of the Baha’i faith was detained on religious grounds, according to members of the community.

In the Philippines, three United Methodist Church missionaries were forced to leave the country or faced issues with visa renewals after they were involved in investigating human rights violations on a fact-finding mission.

In Myanmar, large-scale displacement of religious minorities continued. During the course of the year, more than 14,500 Rohingya Muslims were reported by Human Rights Watch to have fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape abuses.

In Uzbekistan, it is estimated that at least 1,500 Muslim religious prisoners remained in prison on charges of religious extremism or membership in banned groups.

The Chinese government restricts religion in a variety of ways, including banning entire religious groups (such as the Falun Gong movement and several Christian groups), prohibiting certain religious practices, raiding places of worship, and detaining and torturing individuals.

In India, anti-conversion laws affected minority religious groups. For example, in the state of Uttar Pradesh in September, police charged 271 Christians with attempting to convert people by drugging them and “spreading lies about Hinduism.”

In Thailand, as part of broader immigration raids in 2018, the government arrested hundreds of immigrants who allegedly did not have legal status, including religious minorities from other countries who were seeking asylum or refugee status.

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