A judge has dismissed all charges against a group of Ethiopian Christians from Asela, ruling that there was insufficient evidence against the Christians. He set them free and ordered that the bail they had paid be refunded. Amid reports that many Ethiopian Christians are being persecuted and imprisoned on false charges, this news offers a glimmer of hope that the authorities are allowing justice to prevail at last.
The group had been facing charges of holding illegal meetings in a secret location after police raided their church in Asela, about 100 miles south of the capital of Addis Ababa, on 25 April. Three church leaders were arrested immediately during the raid, which occurred during a baptism service for about 40 new Christians. Four members of the congregation ran away from the police, fearing they would be in trouble because they were from a Muslim background. Their fears were well-founded as all four were later captured and arrested as well. Police also confiscated documents containing details of church members, causing fear for increased pressure against new Muslim Background Believers.
After being held for for two days at the police station, the arrested Christians were transferred to the local prison where they were held with 168 other inmates in very cramped and insanitary conditions. Despite the horrific conditions in jail, their maintained their belief in God and their faith was strong. The group remained calm and thanked God that they were not facing death like so many other persecuted Christians.
Church authorities denied the charges against the Christians and insisted that they had the required permission for their gathering as the law demands. After investigating the matter for a week, the police applied to the court for a seven day extension. During a subsequent court appearance, the judge denied a police request for a second extension pointing out that it was not necessary for the Christians to remain in jail while the investigation continued. The judge ordered the Christians to be released on bail and at a final court hearing at the end of August he dismissed all charges against the Christian group.