EU intervenes for Bibi

The European Union’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Jan Figel, told Pakistani officials during a recent visit that the renewal of their export privileges to Europe depends on the release of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman on death row for blasphemy since 2010.

“The EU countries have started believing that Pakistan’s Supreme Court, appeasing certain political and fundamental forces of Pakistan, is intentionally delaying the hearing of Asia Bibi,” an EU press release stated, adding that the renewal of Pakistan’s GPS Plus trading status will be linked to the outcome of her case.

Asia Bibi, mother of five children, has been in prison since 2009 and was sentenced to death for blasphemy a year later, for drinking from the same cup used by Muslims.

World Watch Monitor

Family Values Sell

For the 26th year in a row, the annual report to the entertainment industry by Movieguide: The Family Guide to Movies and Entertainment, shows clearly that moviegoers prefer relatively clean, heroic, family-friendly movies with Christian, biblical, redemptive, conservative, and patriotic faith and values.

This was revealed by Dr Ted Baehr, founder and publisher of Movieguide at the 26th Annual Movieguide Awards Gala in Los Angeles. “Despite a couple disturbing trends, 2017 was another big year for family movies and movies with faith and values,” he said.

For example, the most family-friendly movies averaged $51.70 million per movie while the least family-friendly movies averaged only $11.67 million. Also, 90% of the Top 10 Movies in the United States and overseas in 2017 contained strong or very strong Christian, redemptive, biblical, moral content, including such movies as Boss Baby, Despicable Me 3, Justice League, Thor: Ragnorak and Wonder Woman.


Oldest manuscript found?

A fragment of the Gospel of Mark may be the oldest found by more than a century, a conference in New Mexico was told in March. Keynote speaker and Liberty University professor Dr Gary Habermas, stated that a specialist in paleology dated a fragment of the Gospel of Mark to between 80 to 110 AD.

If this date holds (and Dr Habermas warned more research was needed), it would be the oldest extant Gospel of Mark fragment by more than 100 years. As noted manuscript and Greek scholar Dr. Daniel Wallace states: “Before the discovery of this fragment, the oldest manuscript that had Mark in it was P45, from the early third century (c. AD 200–250). This new fragment would predate that by 100 to 150 years.”

If the date stands, it would demonstrate that the Gospel of Mark was circulated in the first century, bridging the gap between Jesus and written evidence. In short, it would be historical evidence providing early – and possible eyewitness – testimony on Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.


Nigeria fails Christians

Nigeria’s Catholic bishops have told President Muhammadu Buhari that attacks attributed to members of the Fulani pastoralist tribe have been carried out by “terrorists masquerading as herdsmen” and accused the government of being “incapable or unwilling” to protect citizens from them.

A delegation of 11 bishops delivered a strongly worded message on behalf of the Nigerian bishops’ conference, saying these attacks “have led to a near civil war situation in many parts of the country”. Attacks believed to be by Fulani herdsmen on the properties of agriculturalists in the country’s Middle Belt have become increasingly common, but in recent months the assailants have been armed with AK47s and other expensive weaponry rather than just machetes, suggesting that they are receiving external funding.

Many experts on Nigeria now believe that the violence across the Middle Belt, which World Watch Monitor has reported on at length, has been responsible for more deaths than Boko Haram.

World Watch Monitor

Fulani murder scores

A spate of violence attributed to ethnic Fulani herdsmen in central Nigeria has seen dozens killed since the turn of year.

In Benue State, violence has claimed 80 lives and forced 80,000 to flee. The funerals on 11 January for 73 of the victims in Makurdi, Benue’s capital, were broadcast live. Among those killed were seven members of Benue State Livestock Guards – a special paramilitary unit set up by the Benue state governor to ensure the full implementation of the recent ban on open grazing – their vehicle burnt and an undetermined number of others injured in separate attacks.

In neighbouring Taraba State, at least 55 people were initially confirmed killed in the town of Lau, by suspected Fulani herdsmen on 10 January. The toll is expected to rise as the violence continues.

World Watch Monitor

Pakistan persecution noted

The US State Department has placed Pakistan on a special watch list for “severe violations of religious freedom”. Asif Aqeel reports for World Watch Monitor that the US did not, however, go as far as adding it to its 10 countries of particular concern – for countries where “governments have engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom”.

The US Secretary of State at the time, Rex Tillerson, said: “The protection of religious freedom is vital to peace, stability, and prosperity. These designations are aimed at improving the respect for religious freedom in these countries.”

This naming of Pakistan comes at a time when the US and Pakistan have almost severed their long-standing relationship as allies in the “war on terror”.


Chinese church dynamited

Chinese police officers have demolished one of the country’s largest evangelical churches this week, using heavy machinery and dynamite to raze the building where more than 50,000 Christians worshipped.

The Golden Lampstand Church in Shanxi province in mainland China was one of at least two Christian churches demolished by authorities as part of what critics describe as a national effort to regulate spiritual life in China.

Under President Xi Jinping, the government has destroyed churches or removed their steeples and crosses as part of a campaign that reflects the Communist Party’s long-standing fear that Christianity, viewed as a Western philosophy, is a threat to the party’s authority.

Global Times, a state newspaper, described the building’s destruction as part of a “citywide campaign to remove illegal buildings”, and quoted an unidentified official as saying that the church had been secretly constructed without proper permits and was initially disguised as a warehouse.


Copt murdered for cross

Militants belonging to the State of Sinai group in Egypt have promised to “kill more Copts” after murdering a 27-year-old Coptic man because of the tattoo of a cross on his wrist.

Bassem Herz Attalhah, also known as Haythem Shehata, was on his way home from work in El-Arish, in North Sinai, on January 13, with his brother Osama and friend Mohamed, when they were stopped by three armed men who demanded to see their wrists.

Mohamed, who had no cross, and Osama, whose cross was covered, were allowed to go, then the men shot Bassem in the head. Using Bassem’s phone, the terrorists promised to kill more Copts.

Scores of Coptic Christian families left the city after a string of killings in El-Arish last year. A year ago, it was estimated that 70 per cent of the 160 Coptic Christian families living in the city had left.

World Watch Monitor

Malaysia is terror base

Located within easy reach of three active centres of Islamic extremism –Mindanao in the Philippines, Arakan in Myanmar and the southern provinces of Thailand – Malaysia has become a breeding ground for IS recruitment, weapon smuggling and communication, according to the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research.

In its latest report, the Singapore-based research centre says IS sympathisers number into the thousands in Malaysia and amount to a “virtual caliphate”, as reported by Free Malaysia Today.

But although they face a real security threat, Malaysia’s Christians are generally unaware of the risk, a local source told World Watch Monitor.

“When we talked about IS in our [security] training, they do not show concern as they think it will not happen here,” the source said. “This could be due to lack of knowledge and exposure about the matter itself.”

World Watch Monitor

Turkey jails pastor

Turkish prosecutors have demanded life imprisonment for jailed US pastor Andrew Brunson in an official indictment presented to Izmir’s 2nd Criminal Court.

Arrested without bail since October 2016, Brunson is accused of being “a member and executive” of the Islamic movement led by self-exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, accused of orchestrating the failed July 2016 coup attempt to overthrow the Turkish government.

If the indictment is accepted by the court, formal trial proceedings are expected to be set in motion against Brunson. To date, neither the pastor nor his lawyer have been allowed any access to the legal file of investigations conducted by Turkish authorities into his case.

Christianity Today

Hindus rewrite history

Christian and Muslim leaders in India are appalled by federal government moves to revise the country’s history in a bid to push a pro-Hindu narrative.

Reuters revealed in March that a committee appointed by the Narendra Modi government has been working for six months to prove Hindus are direct descendants of India’s first inhabitants. The reports also said that the committee is seeking to demonstrate that ancient Hindu scriptures are fact, not myth.

The aim of Modi’s pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and affiliated Hindu groups is “ultimately to shape the national identity to match their religious views, that India is a nation of and for Hindus”, reported Reuters.

Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma told the news agency that the committee was part of larger plans to revise India’s history. Christian and Muslim leaders say the move is a systematic attempt to sideline non-Hindus as second-class citizens in their own land.


Vietnamese Christians attacked

Four Vietnamese Christian families – 24 people in all – have been attacked by a mob led by the village chief, local sources have revealed to World Watch Monitor.

Four people were hospitalised for eight days after the March attack, with injuries to their heads and arms. All four families are from the Hmong people group and only recently converted to the Christian faith.

The provincial authorities had advised them against continuing with their newfound faith, World Watch Monitor understands, and village leaders told them that unless they renounce Christianity they will be forced to leave their village.

Among the one million Hmong in Vietnam, there are an estimated 400,000 Christians – a higher proportion than in Vietnam’s population as a whole (about 9%). The religious transformation of the people group has been described as “remarkable”. The Hmong, just like Vietnam’s other Christians, face threats to their religious freedom through the government’s new Law on Belief and Religion, which came into effect this year and has, so far, been used to criminalise a Catholic mass.

World Watch Monitor

Ancient coins found

Archaeologist Eilat Mazar and her team have discovered a trove of bronze coins and cookware in a cave at the base of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. The discovery was In March, on the fifth day of a new dig at the Ophel, which is mentioned in the Bible as a point of fortification.

Dr. Mazar speculates that the seven by 14-meter cave was a hiding place for Jews seeking to escape the Roman siege and eventual sacking of Jerusalem during the First Jewish-Roman War (66–70 AD). At the end of that war, the Roman army destroyed both the city and the Second Temple built by King Herod the Great.

“It’s not a usual phenomenon that we can come to such a closed cave, untouched [for] 2000 years, including the very last remains of life of the people who were sieged in Jerusalem, suffered in Jerusalem, till the very last minute of the Second Temple period,” Dr Mazar said.

Patterns of Evidence