South China Church leaders to get new trial
A Chinese appellate court has overturned the death sentences of five Christian leaders in a growing evangelical church movement. They will be given a retrial.

Pastor Gong Shengliang, his niece, and three others were sentenced last December for organizing the banned South China Church. The convictions were part of a Chinese effort to stamp out "evil cults."

The Christians' trial was held in secret. Gong and two others received death sentences and three others were given suspended death sentences. Dozens of church members were imprisoned or sent to camps for "re-education through labor."

Additional charges against Gong included rape, assault, arson, and endangering national security. No evidence was made public. Gong was scheduled to die on January 5 but international pressure pushed China to grant a stay of execution to appeal.

The case is due to re-open today. The appeals ruling comes only weeks before Chinese President Jiang Zemin attends a summit in Texas with President Bush. When Bush visited China in February, he made his position on religious freedom clear.

"Ninety-five percent of Americans say they believe in God, and I'm one of them," he said in a university speech. ''My prayer is that all persecution will end, so that all in China are free to gather and worship as they wish."

FDA appointment stirs debate
The nomination of the author of As Jesus Cared for Women: Restoring Women Then and Now to a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) panel is stirring controversy this week.

W. David Hager, an obstetrician-gynecologist and University of Kentucky professor, is a Bush administration nominee to lead the 11-member Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee and its study of hormone-replacement therapy for menopausal women.

Time reports that because of his conservative and religious leanings, there is pressure inside the FDA to make Hager's appointment only temporary and not a four-year term. The article (a news report that thinly disguises its stance against Hager) says the appointment has started a "quiet battle" but does not say much about who is resisting Hager's appointment or why.

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd picked up on the Time story today and staunchly opposes Hager's appointment, saying it will bring "W.W.J.D. [into] the F.D.A."

Dowd comments on Hager's belief in spiritual healing and his opposition to RU-486 (she uses a shrill line, "RU-486 or RU-4Jesus?"). She ends by ludicrously equating his books' advice on letting Jesus heal women with Saddam Hussein. Dowd writes: "Are we so worried about medieval villains abroad that we no longer worry about medievalism at home?"

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Is Nigeria the "next hotbed of Islamic radicalism"?
U.S. efforts to replace Middle Eastern oil with that from Nigeria could be "self-defeating," says a column in yesterday's Washington Times, if the country continues to succumb to the same Islamic radicalism of the Middle East.

"The next hotbed of Islamic radicalism," written by Paul Marshall of the Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom, argues that the hard-line version of Shari'ah law is a threat to women, "to men, to democracy, and to Nigeria itself." It has compounded political and ethnic divisions and could splinter Africa's most populous nation.

Marshall writes that the U.S. needs to continue pushing for human rights in Muslim settings and helping those who oppose extremist Shari'ah. "The country needs U.S. aid to reform its troubled legal system and provide an alternative to Islamist education," he writes. "There are national-interest as well as humanitarian reasons for doing this."

Additional stories on Nigeria include:

Jailed ex-lovers unaware they face death by stoning | Nigerian officials forbid kin from telling sentence. (Associated Press)
Also: Bail hearing for couple adjourned | U.N. Integrated Regional Information Networks
Bible society raises alarm over piracy of Bibles | Perpetrators were lately affixing on the fake Bibles Nigerian BSN logo. (This Day, Lagos)

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