New Zealand is the Commonwealth country with the greatest amount of religious freedom, according to new research published this week by the Council of Christians and Jews.

The CCJ statistics have been unveiled ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting taking place on April 19 and 20 in the UK.

The figures show that the 53-state Commonwealth is “a vibrant multi-faith entity, but that religious freedom is still severely lacking in some countries”.

Using data from the Pew Global Religious Futures Project, the figures show that Lesotho and Botswana closely follow New Zealand in the religious freedom rankings, but that Malaysia heads the list of those with the least religious freedom, followed by India and Nigeria.

Christianity is the largest religious community in 43 countries of the Commonwealth, although only eight designate it as an official state religion. And the most religiously diverse is Singapore, followed by Mozambique, while Papua New Guinea, which is 99.2 per cent Christian, is the least.

Zaki Cooper, a CCJ trustee, said: “With its population of 2.4 billion people in 53 countries, spanning six continents, the Commonwealth is a truly multi-faith entity. While Christians are the largest religious grouping in 43 of the countries, many of them have significant minorities from different communities.

“Our survey shows a mixed picture for religious freedom, as we have seen, for example, the persecution of minorities in some Commonwealth countries.”