Four Ethiopian teens jailed for evangelism
Ethiopia | Girls charged with ‘inciting religious violence’ after angry Muslims attack churches
by Julia A. Seymour
Posted 11/21/16, 11:06 am
Christianity and Islam have coexisted peacefully in much of Ethiopia for centuries, but the recent arrest of four Christian teens highlights the ongoing problem of persecution.
In September, officials arrested Eden (15), Gifti (14), Mihiret (14), and Deborah (18), for distributing a Christian book called, Let’s Speak the Truth in Love: Answers to Questions by Ahmed Deedat, in the town of Babile in Oromia state, World Watch Monitor reported. The region is primarily Muslim and the book sought to answer questions posed by the late South African Islamic scholar.
Some Muslims were outraged by the evangelistic effort, calling it an “insult to Islam.” In response, they vandalized the Protestant Meserete Kristos Church and the Full Gospel Church, damaging doors and windows. They also threatened the Meserete Kristos leader.
Following the rampage, officials charged the girls with inciting religious violence and jailed them for a month, awaiting trial.
“This [suffering] is an honor for us,” said Eden, who was beaten her first night in prison, according to a WWM source who visited the girls. “We should expect persecution. We are not afraid. We are singing and praying here in prison.”
Sara Solomon, Africa regional manager for International Christian Concern (ICC), said persecution of Christians most often occurs in Muslim-dominated regions of Ethiopia and is directed at those who convert from Islam or attempt to evangelize.
Ethiopia guarantees religious freedom for its citizens and does not place restrictions on evangelism or proselytizing. But Solomon noted regional jurisdictions sometimes disregard those rights, as in this case.
“People can be victimized in their own regions without it coming to light,” she said.
In August 2015, 15 teens from Karamile went to Oromia to evangelize. Local Muslims assaulted two of them and law enforcement officials responded by arresting and jailing all 15 youths overnight, WWM reported. After the teens’ release, authorities in Karamile ordered church leaders to cease evangelism and forbade them from discussing religion outside the church.
ICC is working to make sure the federal authorities are aware of the latest case and understand it as a matter of religious persecution, not political unrest.
The girls’ arrests coincide with a time of political turmoil in Ethiopia. The country announced a state of emergency in October after months of anti-government protests.
“Ideally, we hope for the court to recognize that these girls were just sharing their faith and did not incite religious violence. Our hope and prayer is that the local governor would recognize their innocence and grant their freedom,” Open Doors spokeswoman Emily Fuentes said.
Open Doors ranked Ethiopia No. 18 on its latest World Watch List due to “severe” persecution of three types: Islamic extremism in parts of the country, including the border with Somalia; government favoritism toward the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and toward Islam; and tribal opposition to people converting to a different religion.