LONDON: Religious intolerance is "the new racism" and one of the main causes of persecution of minorities across the world, according to the annual Minority Rights Group International report published Thursday.
In an overview of government policies, global trends and personal accounts, the campaign group argues that counter-terrorism efforts and economic marginalization are increasingly being associated with religion, not ethnicity.
"Religious intolerance is the new racism," said Mark Lattimer, director of Minority Rights Group International. "Many communities that have faced racial discrimination for decades are now being targeted because of their religion."
The report notes that Muslims have been increasingly targeted by authorities in Europe and the United States as part of counter-terrorism measures.
This is evident from police stop-and-searches to the US restrictions introduced after a Nigerian Muslim was accused of trying to bomb an airliner on Christmas Day 2009.
The restrictions applied to citizens from 14 countries — 13 of them predominantly Muslim, the report notes.
It also highlighted how religious groups can be the focus of nationalist campaigns, such as in Switzerland, where voters chose in a referendum to ban the construction of new minarets after a campaign by a far-right party.
Meanwhile in Iraq and Pakistan, which are on the frontline of the so-called "war on terror", attacks against religious minorities have also escalated in recent years, the report said.
It notes religious groups in Iraq such as the Christians, Mandaeans, Bahais and Yezidis, have become targets of violence since the US-led invasion in 2003.
And in Pakistan, the Taliban have targeted Christians for attack through killings, torture, forcible conversions and burning of churches, it says.
Other discrimination occurs through government registration schemes for religious groups, a practice used in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Serbia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan since 2001.
In Egypt, all identification papers must list religious affiliation — but the choice is restricted to Islam, Christianity and Judaism. This means the Bahai cannot get ID papers, and therefore cannot work or access healthcare. Bahais obtained a court order allowing them to put a dash instead of listing their true religion, but other restrictions still apply.