UPDATE: One of those arrested dies in police custody.
In one-in-three countries worldwide (34%), some level of government limits proselytizing - sharing about one's faith in an attempt to get another person to join the faith - according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center.
Government limits on proselytizing vary greatly by region, as shown in the chart below. They are most common in the Middle East and North Africa, where 80% of countries impose limits. Sometimes restrictions are de facto rather than explicitly legal. In Egypt, for instance, proselytizing is not limited by law, but the U.S. State Department reports that "police have in the past detained or otherwise harassed those accused of proselytizing on charges of ridiculing or insulting the three 'heavenly religions' - Islam, Christianity, or Judaism - or inciting sectarian strife."
More than half the governments in Asia-Pacific (56%) impose restrictions on proselytizing. In Indonesia, for example, the government’s Guidelines for the Propagation of Religion bar most proselytizing, and Article 156 of the Criminal Code makes spreading heresy and blasphemy punishable by up to five years in prison.
More than one-in-five (22%) European governments or government representatives imposed restrictions on proselytizing, including Greece, where the constitution and law forbid proselytizing. However, as of mid-2010, there were fewer reported cases where Greek police detained people for proselytizing.
In sub-Saharan Africa, 19% of governments limit proselytizing. Sometimes these limitations do not specifically use the term "proselytizing." For example, Sierra Leone’s Constitution stipulates that “for the purposes of protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons,” there should be no “unsolicited intervention of the members of any other religion.” This could be taken to mean that members of one religion should not try to proselytize members of other religious groups.
Only 9% of countries in the Americas limit proselytizing. For instance, the government of Venezuela limits Venezuelan or foreign missionary groups from working in indigenous areas.
For background on proselytizing, see UN Special Rapporteur Heiner Bielefeldt's recent report to the UN General Assembly on the right to try to convert others by means of non-coercive persuasion. Also see previous Weekly Number Blogs noting that social hostilities are more than twice as high in countries that (a) limit conversion or (b) penalize apostasy.
* The arrests were widely reported in the media, including the BBC, Reuters, Al Jazeera, USA Today, AP, Fox, the Guardian, and South Korea's Yonhap News. Those arrested include an Egyptian, a South African, a Korean and a Swede who was traveling on a U.S. passport.