Ethiopian Orthodox Church members imprisoned for speaking out against persecution of Christians

ACN Malta

Six members of an Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) were sentencedin August by a district court to between five and almost nine years in prison.Administrative committee leader, Yemariam Worke Teshager, was sentenced to eight years and eight months in prison.The judge handed out sentences of five years and six months in prison to five other Christians –  Masresha Seife, Nigatua Lema, Mulugeta Aragaw, Habtamu Teka and Maru Lema. Their only “crime” was that they dared to speak out against unjust treatment of Christians in the district.The six men have since been transferred to prison in Worabe, the capital of the Muslim-dominated Silte zone.

The six convicted men form part of the congregation of St. Mary’s Orthodox Church in Kilto, 118 miles south of the capital of Addis Ababa in the Muslim-dominated Silte zone of SNNP state. Since the new zone’s inception following a referendum held in 2001when the majority voted in favour of forming a separate zone,its capital, Worabe, has expanded considerably and now has four prominent mosques.

Members of St Mary’s Church in Kilto have suffered increasing persecution, including attacks on their church and its congregation by Muslims in the area and even local governmentofficials. They have also been subjected to discrimination in work opportunities, unfair dismissal from jobs, unfair negative feedback on work performance and even physical attacks and threats against their lives.

The situation was becoming unbearable and last March the six men, members of St Mary’s Administrative Committee, wrote a letter to protest against the persecution of Christians in their Muslim-dominated area in the southern part of the country.. The letter, addressed to national leaders of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, was copied to various government institutions including the office of the Prime Minister.

When the protest letter was leaked to the media, it received considerable attention from local independent media outlets. Angry local government officials told the Christian protesters that going to the media was a mistake and demanded an apology.Even though the six men wrote a letter of apology, they were arrested soon after and charged with inciting public disturbance, destroying public trust in government officials and spreading hatred.They were subsequently found guilty of all charges by the Eastern Azeret Berbere district court and sentenced to prison.

The head of the regional Ethiopian Orthodox Church diocese said that the Church will appeal the verdict, but also commented “Imprisonment is common in Christianity”.