Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baha’is Most frequently Banned Groups

Harassment of Religiously Unaffiliated People Rose in Eight Years

About 41 countries across the world have banned at least one religion related group in 2019, the most recent year for which comprehensive data is available. The Pew Research Centre that analysed the data from across the world came to this conclusion and also stated that Jehovah’s Witnesses and Baha’is were among the most frequently banned groups.


In the analysis, the authors said that Middle East and North Africa region had the highest share of countries (55% or 11 out of 20 countries in the region) with bans on religion related groups in 2019. Asia and the Pacific with 50 nations had the greatest number of countries with bans (17 out of 50 countries or 34% of the region). Sub-Saharan Africa had eight countries with bans (representing about 17% of the 48 states in the region). Europe had three (about 7% of the region’s 45 countries) and the Americas had two nations with such bans on religion in place (about 6% of the region’s 35 countries), the analysis said.


The report mentions that three groups faced bans in multiple countries in 2019. Jehovah’s Witnesses who are identified as Christian but differ from other Christians in some ways: Baha’is, a faith originating in Iran that preaches human unity and the continuity of all religions and Ahmadis, a group with roots in India that derives tenets from Islamic teachings.

Eight countries across all regions banned Jehovah’s Witnesses religion group.. As an example, the authors say that a 2017 decision by the Russia’s Supreme Court banned Jehovah’s Witnesses, criminalizing their activities as being extremist. In 2019, hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia faced detentions, travel restrictions investigations and raids on their homes.

Six countries in the Asia-Pacific and Middle East-North Africa regions banned Baha’is religion group in 2019. In Iran Baha’is faced multiple restrictions and were barred from certain types of work, especially in the food industry, as they were considered “unclean.” They were blocked from government jobs, higher education institutions and from receiving national pensions. They could not inherit property nor have their marriages fully recognized. Egypt has had long-standing bans on both Baha’is and Jehovah’s Witnesses. They were denied the benefits and even barred from performing routine tasks such as banking or registering for school. In 2019. Baha’i marriages were not legally recognized and the country prohibited adherents from designating their religious affiliation on national identity cards. Baha’is and Jehovah’s Witnesses were not permitted to have places of worship or import religious literature.

Ahmadis were banned in four countries in 2019. Pakistan had laws that prohibited Ahmadis from calling themselves Muslims and banned them from preaching or proselytizing. In Brunei, all three groups – Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baha’is and Ahmadis – were banned in 2019 as they were considered “deviant.”


Only certain registered religious groups are officially recognized in some countries and is considered illegal to adhere to any other religious faith. In Eritrea, only four religious groups are officially recognized —  the Eritrean Orthodox Church Sunni Islam, the Roman Catholic Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Eritrea. Other religious groups cannot register and are treated as illegal. For instance, the government only permits Sunni Islam and bans all other practices of Islam.

Uzbekistan criminalizes activities by unregistered religious groups, which are considered to be illegal and designates certain Islamic groups to be extremist and therefore “prohibited.” Members and organizers of illegal religious groups can be imprisoned up to five years, and those in prohibited groups can be jailed for up to 20 years. As of 2019, authorities in Uzbekistan had criminalized membership in 22 religious organizations, citing threats to the government’s secular authority and the need to prevent ‘incitement of interreligious instability and hatred, according to the U.S. State Department.

The Chinese government has also criminalised certain groups that it considers to be “cult organizations. These include the Falun Gong movement and several Christian groups, which face detentions and disappearances,” and in some cases torture and death, according to the U.S. State Department. In 2019, several reports came out on the forcible extraction of organs from religious prisoners – mainly from Falun Gong practitioners.

In some countries, practices considered to be part of folk or indigenous religions are outlawed. In Cameroon Central African Republic and Tanzania, practicing witchcraft is illegal. In many countries, repercussions for membership in banned religious groups can include detention raids and seizure of property.

A few countries may formally ban groups yet tolerate them in practice. Governments in some regions cite security as a rationale for banning political or social groups with religious affiliations. Sometimes the groups are opposition movements to ruling parties. Morocco has banned social movement with Islamic roots called the Justice and Charity Organization. The group rejects King Mohamed VI’s spiritual authority. Despite unregistered, they are able to operate and hold events and demonstrations with some interference from the government.

In Bahrain, a Sunni-governed country where Shiite leaders have faced routine detention and harassment, the government banned the largely Shiite Al-Wefaq political opposition party in 2016. In 2014, the country also banned the Islamic Ulema Council, a group of Shiite clerics.


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