Hong Kong Christian may face execution for Bible smuggling
China has suggested it is cutting back on religious persecution, but it sure seems to be expanding. A Chinese court has indicted Li Guangqiang on charges of "using a cult to undermine enforcement of the law"—in other words, of trying to bring 16,000 Bibles to underground churches in the country. He is reportedly the first Hong Kong resident prosecuted under China's 1999 anti-cult law. Li may face execution if convicted, says the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, which is calling attention to Li's case. The Washington Post reports that the Bibles came from a California church.

As Egypt's Copts celebrate Christmas, a retrial for El-Kosheh riots
Regular Christianity Today readers will remember the riots between Egyptian Muslims and Christians that broke out over New Year's weekend 2000. In the three days of violence in the village of El-Kosheh, 21Christians were killed and 260 homes and businesses owned by Christians were attacked. Only one Muslim was killed, and he died from a fellow Muslim's mistaken bullet. Nevertheless, a judge acquitted almost all the murder suspects, and accused local Christian clergy for the hostilities. Now, as the case is being retried, emotions are running high. "You have renewed my grief and pain and we haven't got our rights until today," Samia Tadrous Lawendi told the court Saturday. She lost eight relatives in the attack. "There's no reason at all for them to kill my family. I am awaiting your fair verdict."

Meanwhile, Copts are furious about the Egyptian government's armed protection of the Virgin Tree, a sycamore that reportedly sheltered Jesus, Mary, and Joseph when they fled from Herod. The government says it's just protecting the tree from pilgrims seeking souvenirs. But the Egyptian Christians say the government has no right to keep them from touching the sacred plant. "All my life I have wanted to come here because it is a very special place for Copts," Mamdouh Kiriakos tells The Washington Times. "But it's not a comfortable feeling arriving in such a spiritual place and then finding a dozen soldiers with guns." (Copts' pilgrimages to sites such as this were the subject of Christianity Today's December cover story.)

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