Among the world's 25 most populous countries, the highest overall levels of restrictions were found in Myanmar, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan and Russia, where both the government and society at large impose numerous limits on religious beliefs and practices, said Pew Research Center's latest annual study on global restrictions on religion. "Among these populous countries, China had the highest level of government restrictions in 2013, and India had the highest level of social hostilities involving religion," the report said.
According to Pew, the number of countries and territories with a "very high" level of social hostilities involving religion fell from 20 in 2012 to 17 in 2013.
"Most of the countries and territories in this category including Israel, India, Pakistan, the Palestinian territories and Nigeria already had very high social hostilities. Two countries the Central African Republic and Tanzania had very high social hostilities in 2013 but not in 2012," it said.
"Five countries that had very high social hostilities in 2012 did not in 2013: Burma (Myanmar), Lebanon, Sudan, Thailand and Yemen," the report said.
The new study finds that the share of countries with high or very high level of social hostilities involving religion dropped from 33 per cent in 2012 to 27 per cent in 2013, the most recent year for which data are available.
These types of hostilities run the gamut from vandalism of religious property and desecration of sacred texts to violent assaults resulting in deaths and injuries, it said.
By contrast, the share of countries with high or very high government restrictions on religion stayed roughly the same from 2012 to 2013. The share of countries in this category was 27 per cent in 2013, compared to 29 per cent in 2012.
Government restrictions on religion include efforts to control religious groups and individuals in a variety of ways, ranging from registration requirements to discriminatory policies and outright bans on certain faiths, it said.
As in previous years, Christians and Muslims who together make up more than half of the global population faced harassment in the largest number of countries. Christians were harassed, either by government or social groups, in 102 of the 198 countries included in the study (52 per cent), while Muslims were harassed in 99 countries (50 per cent).
The report said in recent years, there has been a marked increase in the number of countries where Jews were harassed. In 2013, harassment of Jews, either by government or social groups, was found in 77 countries (39 per cent)a seven-year high.