WASHINGTON: About 75 per cent of the world's people face restrictions on religion as part of a rising tide of government-imposed limits on faith, according to a study released on Thursday.
Restrictions also rose in such traditionally tolerant nations as the United States and Switzerland, said the study by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life.
The share of 197 countries or territories with high or very high restrictions on religious beliefs and practices rose to 37 per cent in mid-2010 from 31 per cent in mid-2009, the period studied, it said.
Criteria for measuring the extent of restrictions include government efforts to ban particular faiths, bar conversions and limit preaching.
“Because some of the most restrictive countries are very populous, three-quarters of the world's approximately 7 billion people live in countries with high government restrictions on religion or high social hostilities, up from 70 per cent a year earlier,” the report said.
Countries with very high restrictions in mid-2010 were Egypt, Indonesia, Maldives, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Tunisia, Eritrea, China, Syria, Myanmar, Russia, Vietnam, Yemen, Azerbaijan, Algeria and Belarus.
The list of 18 countries has lengthened from 10 three years before, and Brunei and Turkey have dropped from the earlier group.
Among examples of restrictions during the year ending in mid-2010, a constitutional referendum in Switzerland banned the construction of minarets on mosques.
In Indonesia, more than two dozen churches were forced to close due to pressure from extremists or, in some cases, local officials.
Five of the seven major religious groups monitored - Jews, Christians, Buddhists, adherents of folk or traditional religions, and members of other world religions - also saw four-year highs in the number of countries where they were harassed by governments, or by individuals or groups in society.
The United States moved to the moderate category of nations restricting religion from low. Limits included men being prevented from wearing religious attire or symbols, such as beards, in such settings as courtrooms or prisons.
Some US religious groups also faced difficulties in getting zoning permits, the report said. The study was the third that Pew has carried out on restrictions on religion worldwide.