(World Watch Monitor) A report released earlier this month by the Pew Research Center shows an increased intolerance towards religion by governments and societies alike in 2015.
The global study, which included 198 countries, found that government restrictions increased by 1%, while there was a 3% growth in the number of countries with “high” or “very high” levels of social hostility.
Egypt had the highest levels of government restrictions, while Nigeria had the highest levels of social hostilities, though the two were not always linked, as the report noted: “In some places (such as Russia and Egypt) there are high restrictions and hostilities, but in others, such as China, some of the highest levels of government restrictions in 2015 were accompanied by some of the lowest levels of social hostilities.”
While the Middle East continued to lead the ranks as the region with “the largest proportion of governments that engaged in harassment and use of force against religious groups (95%)”, Europe saw the greatest increase in these measures in 2015, as the report noted: “More than half of the 45 countries in [Europe] (53%) experienced an increase in government harassment or use of force from 2014 to 2015” – in part in response to “record numbers of refugees entering Europe”.
According to the report, 79% of the world’s population lived in countries with high or very high levels of restrictions and/or hostilities in 2015 (up from 74% in 2014). Among the 25 most populous countries, Russia, Egypt, India, Pakistan and Nigeria had the highest overall restrictions.
In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia continued to be a nation where “national laws and policies do not provide for religious freedom and the national government does not respect religious freedom in practice.” However, according to Saudi human rights activist Abdullah al-Nasseri, Saudis are enjoying an element of freedom to voice their opinions about the economy and are doing so more than ever before – mostly via Twitter and the Internet, as seen after the government announced plans to sell off 5% of its shares in the state-owned Aramco oil company.
Meanwhile, as World Watch Monitor reported last year, a new directive ordered Saudi’s religious police to conduct its affairs with “gentleness and lenience”.
But al-Nasseri cautioned that “while freedom of expression exists when it comes to the debate over economy-related issues, freedom of expression has declined to unprecedented levels in human rights and political issues”.