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Nigerian student beaten to death, body burned over ‘blasphemous’ WhatsApp message

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REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

A 25-year-old Christian student in Nigeria’s Sokoto State was beaten to death and her body burned after her Muslim classmates purportedly found a blasphemous message she had sent to a school WhatsApp group, according to a persecution watchdog.

The victim, identified as Deborah Emmanuel, who was also a member of the Evangelical Church Winning All and a student at the Shehu Shagari College of Education, was killed Thursday, the U.S.-based group International Christian Concern reported, adding that a video of her killing went viral on social media (a portion of the attack can be seen here).

Deborah, who lived with her parents in Sokoto, apparently got into an argument with her female classmates after sending a WhatsApp message her classmates interpreted as blasphemous, ICC said.

The video posted on social media shows her lying still on the ground as she tried to protect her head with her left arm as male and female students gathered around, beating her with sticks, throwing large stones, and shouting, “Allahu Akbar,” or “Allah is greater.” She pleaded with her classmates not to kill her. 

School authorities reportedly attempted to save her but could not reach her.

“Muslim students and teachers don’t like Christians in the school,” a student from the school was quoted as saying.

Since the attack, Muslim students have blocked the road to the school and Deborah’s house, making it difficult for Christians to move around, the source said.

Nigeria’s Christians are routinely targeted, kidnapped and even killed by Islamic militants, including radical Islamic Fulani herdsmen and terror groups Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province.

Last December, Islamic Fulani radicals killed the Rev. Dauda Bature, a pastor from the same denomination in Kaduna state, a month after abducting him and despite a ransom payment being made.

The pastor’s wife told church leaders that her husband preached about Christ to his captors and prayed for their repentance, which made them angry and might have contributed to their decision to kill him.

In 2021, ICC designated Nigeria as one of the world's top “Persecutors of the Year” for its savage treatment of Christians. 

“Nigeria is one of the deadliest places on Earth for Christians, as 50,000 to 70,000 have been killed since 2000,” the ICC Persecutor of the Year report stated.

Open Doors USA, which monitors persecution in over 60 countries, reported that at least 4,650 Christians were killed between Oct. 1, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2021. That is an increase from 3,530 the previous year. Additionally, more than 2,500 Christians were kidnapped, up from 990 a year earlier.

In a report released last year, the Anambra-based International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) estimated that about 10 million people had been uprooted in northern Nigeria, where extremist violence was most severe, from July 2009 to July 2021.

The report added that about 2,000 Christian schools were attacked during that time. 

The atrocities included: “massacres, killings, mutilations, torture, maiming, abductions, hostage-taking, rape, girl-child defilements, forced marriages, disappearances, extortions, forceful conversions and destruction or burning of homes and sacred worship and learning centers.” 

Intersociety said the mass violence had resulted from the “propagation of radical Islamism.”

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