07/17/2019, 14.54
ASIA
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Asia remains 'enemy' of religious freedom

The Pew Research Center report states that "in the 2007-2017 decade, government restrictions on religion - laws, policies and actions of state officials that limit religious beliefs and practices - have increased dramatically in the world."  Leading the ranking of countries that impose restrictions on religious freedom are the Middle East and North Africa.

Rome (AsiaNews) - Asia has confirmed itself as the continent with the greatest restrictions and obstacles to religious freedom.

A report of the Pew Research Center - the US center of analysis of social problems - reveals "in the decade 2007-2017, government restrictions on religion - laws, policies and actions of state officials that limit beliefs and practices  religious - have increased considerably in the world ”.  

And the latest data show that 52 governments - including some in very populous countries like China, Indonesia and Russia - impose 'high' or 'very high' levels of religious restrictions, compared to 40 in 2007. 

And the number of countries where the  people are experiencing the highest levels of social hostility towards religion has gone from 39 to 56 during the study.

Leading the ranking of countries that impose restrictions on religious freedom are the Middle East and North Africa, but some of the biggest increases in the last decade have been in other regions, including Europe - where a growing number of governments have placed  limits on the clothing of Muslim women - and on sub-Saharan Africa, where some groups have tried to impose their religious norms on others through kidnappings and forced conversions.

In particular, 19 of the 20 Middle Eastern countries (all except Lebanon) favor one religion - 17 have a state religion, and two have a favorite or favored religion.  

In all these countries, except for Israel, the preferred religion is Islam.  Moreover, all the countries of the region refer in some way to religious authorities or doctrines on legal issues.  

For example, in family law in Egypt when spouses have the same religion, the courts apply the traditional religious laws of the religious group.  But even when one spouse is Muslim and the other has a different religion (such as Coptic Christianity) the courts apply Islamic family law.

Nonetheless, government favoritism towards a religion has increased little in the Middle East, while in the other large geographical regions, there have been significant increases in the levels of government favoritism of religious groups.

This is the case in the Asia-Pacific region.  In Thailand, a new Constitution came into force in 2017 with a provision that raises the status of Theravada Buddhism by imposing "special promotion" through "education, the propagation of its principles and the establishment of measures and mechanisms to prevent profanation  of Buddhism in any form ".

Since 2007 there has also been an increase in Asian governments referring to religious authorities, texts and doctrines.  

For example, in Turkey in 2017 the government approved a law that gives the religious authorities at the provincial and district level the authority to register marriages and officiate marriages on behalf of the state.  The government said this would make the registration process more efficient, while critics argued that it violates the principles of secularism of the country's constitution.  

Since 2015, Islam is the most widespread state supported religion around the world;  in 27 of the 43 countries that have an official religion (63%), that religion is Islam.

But not all the countries on this list favor Islam.  In Greece, Iceland and the United Kingdom, several Christian denominations are the official religions of the state.

Persecutions of religious groups are particularly high in Iran, where the authorities have labeled the Baha'is as "heretics" and in Russia, where the police raided homes and places of worship of religious minorities.  

In Indonesia, local governments continued efforts to force conversions of Ahmadi Muslims by asking them to sign their renunciation of their convictions before they could register marriages or participate in the hajj pilgrimage.

In China, for example, only some religious groups are allowed to register with the government and hold worship services.  To do this, they must belong to one of the five state-sponsored "patriotic religious associations" (Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Catholic and Protestant).  "However, there have been reports that the Chinese government has arrested, tortured and physically abused members of both registered and unregistered religious groups."

Among the countries with the highest levels of limits to religion, a myriad of policies are applied that limit religious activities.  

In the Maldives, for example, it is a crime to promote a religion other than Islam, punishable by up to five years in prison.  And in Laos, religious groups must obtain government permission to reunite, hold religious services, build houses of worship and establish new congregations.

The restrictions in this category are also common throughout Central Asia.  Beginning in 2017, the government of Turkmenistan continued to deny visas to foreigners if they were suspected of wanting to do missionary work;  the government has also prevented the importation of religious literature.  Similarly, in Uzbekistan, a government agency has continued to block the import of both Christian and Islamic literature.

Still, in 2017 only harassment or intimidation of religious groups by governments was reported in 86% of the countries in the region.  This measure includes long-term and ongoing harassment of religious minorities in some countries, which continued into 2017. For example, in China, hundreds of thousands of Uyghur Muslims were sent to "re-education camps".

Ultimately, the study concludes, "overall, government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion have remained fairly stable in 2017, compared with the previous year.  It is the first time that there have been few changes globally after two consecutive years of increases in overall restrictions by governments or private groups and individuals.

"In 2017, around a quarter of the 198 countries studied (26%) experienced 'high' or 'very high' levels of governmental restrictions - ie laws, policies and actions of government officials that limit religious beliefs and practices - which are falling  from 28% in 2016. This decline follows two years of increasing the percentage of countries with high levels of restrictions on religion".

"The share of countries with 'high' or 'very high' levels of social hostility involving religion - that is, acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organizations or groups in society - has increased from 27% in 2016 to 28% in  2017. This is the highest percentage of countries with high or very high levels of social hostility since 2013, but falls well below the peak of 33% in 2012 ”.

In 2017, 83 countries (42%) experienced high or very high levels of restrictions on religion due to governmental actions or hostile acts by private individuals, organizations and social groups.  This figure has remained at the same level since 2016 after two years of increases and is just below the peak of 43% in 2012. As in previous years, most countries continue to have low to medium levels of overall religious restrictions in  2017.

Speaking of religious freedom, yesterday at the presentation of the "Persecution of Cristians Review", Msgr.  Antoine Camilleri, Vatican undersecretary for relations with the states, denounced the "growing tendency, even in stable democracies, to criminalize or penalize religious leaders because they openly proclaim their  faith, especially in the areas of life, marriage and the family ”.  

On the contrary, "it is the duty of the State to protect all those who profess, or do not profess, a religious conviction, since they are fully fledged citizens".  (FP)

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