From World Watch Monitor
A district court in Ethiopia has charged six members of an Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) with inciting public disturbance, destroying public trust in government officials and spreading hatred after it surfaced in the media that official complaints were made to the government about increasing persecution of Christians in a Muslim-dominated area in the southern part of the country.
The court found the men guilty earlier in August and sentenced them to between five and almost nine years in prison.
The men are members of St. Mary’s Orthodox Church in Kilto, 118 miles south of the capital of Addis Ababa in the Silte zone of SNNP state. Silte is a Muslim-dominated zone that came into existence after the Silte people unanimously chose to form a separate zone in a referendum held in 2001. A number of Ethiopia’s prominent Muslim politicians come from Silte, including the current Minister of Defense, the Minister of Communications and the current caucus leader for women’s affairs in the federal parliament.
Since the new zone’s inception over a decade ago, its capital, Worabe, has seen tremendous growth and is now home to at least four prominent mosques. But leaders from the EOC have been complaining about increasing persecution, including attacks on their church and its members by local Muslims and officials of the local government. These complaints have received considerable attention from local independent media outlets.
On March 11 six members of St Mary’s Orthodox Church’s Administrative Committee wrote a letter addressed to national leaders of the EOC and copied to various government institutions, including the office of the Prime Minister, in which they listed the persecution they have been facing. According to them, this included discrimination in job opportunities, unfair dismissal from jobs, unjustly negative feedback on job performance, burning of EOC church buildings, physical attacks and threats against their lives.
The authors said their situation had become unbearable and they likened it to the circumstances in Libya where, in April, so-called Islamic State (IS) militants filmed the execution of 30 EOC members and circulated the video on the web.
The matter of the IS executions is a highly emotional subject in Ethiopia and has led to protests against the government for perceived poor handling of the situation.
When the administrative committee letter was leaked to the media, local government officials summoned the authors to a meeting and demanded an apology. Citing local sources, local privately owned media reported that the leaders’ explanation did not “win the officials’ understanding.” The latter told the authors that going to the media was a mistake.
The six leaders wrote a letter of apology. That did not deter the district prosecutor from charging the committee members on July 6 with inciting public disturbance, destroying public trust in government officials and spreading hatred. On Aug. 7 the Eastern Azeret Berbere district court found them guilty of all charges.
The judge sentenced administrative committee leader, Yemariam Worke Teshager, to eight years and eight months in prison and sentenced each of the others to five years and six months in prison. They are Masresha Seife, Nigatua Lema, Mulugeta Aragaw, Habtamu Teka and Maru Lema.
The six men have since been transferred to prison in Worabe, the capital of the Muslim-dominated Silte zone. The leader of the regional EOC diocese has indicated that it will appeal the verdict, but also said: “Imprisonment is common in Christianity, and it is good to be persecuted.”
Ethiopia is ranked #22 on the 2015 Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 worst persecutors of Christians.
Compiled by Jerry Dykstra. For media inquiries, contact Christine Cape at 404-545-0085 or Christy Lynn Wilson at 770-401-9842.