The world became generally more hostile to religious believers of all faiths, Christianity included, in 2012, according to a major annual report issued Jan. 14.

Christians were harassed in more countries than followers of other faiths, though pressure on Muslims and Jews was widespread globally, according to the study, conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Research Center.

The report, now in its sixth year, measures constraints on religious freedom in two major categories: social hostilities and government restrictions. It surveys conditions in 198 countries, encompassing 99 per cent of the world’s population.

Social Hostilities

A third of the world’s countries had high measures of social hostilities in 2012, the highest level recorded in the study’s six-year history. Pew defines social hostilities as ranging from terrorism and mob violence to harassment over religious attire.

Nearly half of all countries reported abuse of religious minorities by individuals or groups who took offense at, or felt threatened by, the minority. In the first year of the study, less than a quarter of all countries reported such abuse.

Violence, or the threat of it, against religious minorities to enforce religious norms was reported in 39 per cent of countries, compared to 33 per cent a year earlier and 18 per cent in the first year of the study.

The report said 2012 growth of social hostilities was especially rapid in Northern Africa and the Middle East, and was highest in Pakistan.

Government restrictions

High rates of official limits on religion were found in 29 per cent of the countries, about the same as the previous year. Pew examines 20 indicators of government control, including bans on specific faiths, restrictions on conversions, and preferential treatment to certain religions, among others.

Increases were detected among several of those 20 measures. Government limits on worship were citied in 74 per cent of countries, up from 69 per cent in 2011. Restrictions on public preaching were found in 38 per cent of countries, up from 31 per cent. And government force, such as arrest and prosecution, was documented in 48 per cent of the world’s countries, up from 41 per cent.

Egypt ranked highest on the report’s list of government restrictions.

Taking both categories — government restrictions and social hostility — into account, high levels of overall religious restrictions were reported in 43 per cent of the world’s countries, the highest ever recorded by Pew. In all, three-quarters of the world’s population lives under high levels of restrictions, according to the report.

The Christian experience

The Pew Center report concerns itself with all religions, not Christianity alone. It did say, however, that Christians in 2012 were harassed in more countries, 110, than any other single religion. Muslims were harassed in 109, and Jews, 71. Since the report began in 2007, Christian harassment has been reported in 151 countries, and harassment of Muslims in 135.

About the report

The Pew report released Tuesday covers 2012. It doesn’t take into account momentous developments in 2013, such as the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi from Egypt’s presidency and the subsequent violence against Coptic churches across Egypt; or the anarchy and deadly Muslim-Christian violence in the Central African Republic; or the continued exodus of Christians from Syria and much of the Middle East; or the bombings in Peshawar, Pakistan, that killed scores of Christians.

Pew also excludes North Korea from its study, citing the inability to obtain reliable data from, or about, the reclusive country.

Data for the report is drawn from 18 public information sources, most published by national governments, the United Nations, European Union, and non-government human-rights organizations.