August 9th, 2011
02:09 PM ET
By Moni Basu, CNN
Nearly a third of the world's people live in nations where practicing religion freely is becoming increasingly difficult, according to a new study released Tuesday.
The Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life said government restrictions and religiously motivated hostility rose significantly between mid-2006 and mid-2009, when the research was conducted.
Only 1% of the world's population lives in countries where the trend was the opposite.
"The increasing levels of social hostilities is a definite trend that needs to be watched carefully," said Brian Grim, the primary researcher for the study.
Grim said the Pew Center's report on 198 countries found those that were already restrictive or abusive in the previous report continued their decline. Those that were tolerant became more so. The study found that 101 governments used force against religious groups or individuals.
He said Christians and Muslims, who make up more than half of the world's population, were harassed in the most number of countries, though that did not reflect the intensity of the persecution.
The Middle East and North Africa had the largest proportion of nations where curbs on religion went up, the study found. Nearly a third of those nations imposed greater restrictions. It was particularly bad in Egypt, the study said.
The research was done before the so-called Arab Spring. Many of the nations with increasing religious restrictions have seen popular uprisings and subsequent crackdowns - among them Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Libya.
Grim said Pew will be conducting another study to reflect the effects of recent events.
It was noteworthy, he said, that Muslims faced the highest persecution in Islam-dominated Middle East and North Africa. Much of it was because of a majority branch persecuting a minority branch. Or in the case of Egypt, it was the government targeting the Muslim Brotherhood, Grim said.
Among the world's top 25 populous nations, which account for 75% of the global population, curbs on religion went up in eight countries and did not go down in any. In China, Nigeria, Russia, Thailand, the United Kingdom and Vietnam, the increases were primarily due to rising social hostilities. In Egypt and France, the increases were mainly because of government restrictions.
The United States enjoys high levels of religious freedom, Grim said, but 1,300 religiously motivated hate crimes were reported to the FBI during the period of the study.
The Pew Center report was compiled from a variety of sources, including the United Nations, the U.S. State Department and Human Rights Watch. The private Washington-based center does not take positions on any of the issues it covers or on policy debates.
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