UK Prime Minister Theresa May with other Commonwealth Heads of State today at Windsor Castle.

A new report on religious freedom in Commonwealth member states says minorities in India, Malaysia and Nigeria have the least freedom to practise their faith.

Using data from the Pew Global Religious Futures Project, the new report by the Council of Christians and Jews noted that Christianity is the largest religious community in 43 of the 53 Commonwealth countries, though only eight of them designate it as the official state religion. Meanwhile the most religiously diverse is said to be Singapore, while Papua New Guinea, which is 99% Christian, is the least.

The survey was published as the 25th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London draws to a close.

World Watch Monitor has reported extensively on how in India, 11th on the 2018 Open Doors World Watch List, an increasingly assertive Hindu nationalist movement has caused rising levels of persecution of Christians. Meanwhile Christians in Nigeria (14th on the list) experience ongoing persecution at the hands of Boko Haram and militant elements among the nomadic Fulani herdsmen, while in Malaysia (23th) it is converts to Christianity who face the greatest opposition.

Pakistan (5th on the list), Brunei (26th), Kenya (32nd), Bangladesh (41st), and Sri Lanka (44th), are the other Commonwealth countries where, according to Open Doors, it is most difficult to live as a Christian.

Zoe Smith, Head of Advocacy at Open Doors UK, said ahead of the meeting: “The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting will be unable to realise its agenda of securing a common future without explicitly including the right to freedom of religion or belief in its plans.”

‘Huge variety’

During the summit, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby convened two days of discussions about Freedom of Religion or Belief at his residence, Lambeth Palace. The event, titled ‘Majority and minority in context’, was attended by 40 parliamentarians, senior religious leaders and academics from 11 Commonwealth countries. Discussions took place under Chatham House rules, where participants can report about the meeting but not quote and name the sources.

Welby, who has made frequent trips to Nigeria, highlighted the persecution of Nigerian Christians in a meeting with the country’s President Muhammadu Buhari last Wednesday (11 April).

Last month, in the run up to the Commonwealth meeting, British parliamentarians called for religious freedom to be on the summit’s agenda. “Ninety-five per cent of people in the Commonwealth profess a religious belief, representing a huge variety of faiths and traditions,” said Catholic crossbencher Lord Alton during a debate in the House of Lords.

“Yet, according to the Pew Research Centre, around 70 per cent of the Commonwealth population live with high or very high government restrictions on the right to freedom of religion and belief,” he added.