U.S. Panel ID's World's Top Religious Persecutors

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WASHINGTON -- As global persecution of Christians rises, a U.S. government commission is urging the Obama administration to act against countries that persecute religious minorities.

"In many countries, certainly religious persecution has become worse over the past several years," said Leonard Leo, the chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The U.S. commission keeps an eye on religious freedom around the world. Their new annual report highlights countries like Vietnam, where Christians and other believers face imprisonment and torture.

"They took me to the station and they tortured me. They used something to tie my thumb and one of my toes and they hung me on the wall for three hours," Kahn said.

Peter, another persecuted Christian, said, "The government says there is freedom of religion. But there is a lot of persecution among Christians and other tribes."

The cover of the commission's new report is a photograph from the funeral of Shahbaz Bhatti. He was the Pakistani official who predicted he would be killed for fighting against Pakistan's blasphemy law, which promises death to those who insult the Prophet Mohammad, the founder of Islam.

"I believe in Jesus Christ who has given his own life for us. I know what is the meaning of cross and I'm following the cross. And I'm ready to die for a cause. I'm living for my community and suffering people, and I will die to defend their rights," Bhatti said before his death.

The commissioners are asking the federal government to blacklist Egypt for failing to prevent or respond to what they call "a sharp deterioration" of religious freedom.

"We've seen a ratcheting up of attacks on the Christian minority, in particular the very large Christian Coptic minority," said Elizabeth Prodromou, the commission's vice chairperson.

The report predicts that entire nations may soon see Christianity disappear within their respective borders because of persecution.

"Particularly in North Africa and the Middle East, Christian populations are dwindling rapidly to the point in some countries where they're facing extinction, like in Iraq," Leo explained.

Eight nations already marked by the U.S. State Department for "particularly severe" violations of religious freedom include Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.

The commissioners want the U.S. to add six other countries as religious persecutors. These countries are Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam.

Commissioners say these nations will actually help themselves if they work to end religious persecution.

"Where there's religious freedom, there are political and civil rights. There is economic prosperity, and there's security and stability," Prodromou said.

*Originally aired on April 29, 2011.

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Paul  Strand

Paul Strand

CBN News Washington Sr. Correspondent

As senior correspondent in CBN's Washington, D.C., bureau, Paul Strand has covered a variety of political and social issues, with an emphasis on defense, justice, and Congress.  Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulStrandCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/PaulStrandCBN.