Religious rights group have underlined that religious persecution is on the rise worldwide and especially in Islamic countries.

On Religious Freedom Day, Jan. 16, the Institute on Religion and Democracy issued a statement, indicating that "millions are discriminated against, beaten and tortured, imprisoned, and killed because they follow Jesus Christ or are members of other minority religions.”

Last week, President George Bush declared Jan. 16 to be Religious Freedom Day, reported CNSNews. He urged Americans to "continue to promote the importance of religious freedom at home and abroad." The date was chosen to commemorate the day in 1786 when Thomas Jefferson's Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom became law.

According to a recent report by Release International, an estimated 250 million Christians will be persecuted in 2007. The U.K.-based group said most persecution takes place in parts of the world under Islam, Communism, Hinduism and Buddhism, but that "persecution is growing fastest of all in the Islamic world."

"Governments in even moderate Muslim countries often fail to safeguard the rights of their Christian minorities," Release International said. "Abuses suffered by Christians include kidnapping, forced conversion, imprisonment, church destruction, torture, rape and execution."

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom was established under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act. The independent panel compiles a list of countries that violate religious freedom. Those designated as "Countries of Particular Concern" are eligible for U.S. government sanctions or other action.

Currently, the list includes Saudi Arabia, China, Iran, Burma, North Korea, Sudan, Eritrea and Uzbekistan.