An Orthodox church cut out of the rock in the town of Lalibela. North Ethiopia was one of the first Christian nations in the world – from the 4th Century.Courtesy Open Doors International
UPDATE: On 26 Aug, four months after their initial arrest, a judge dismissed all charges against the seven Christians charged with holding “illegal meetings in secret locations” and ordered that their bail costs be refunded.
“The Lord is always good and He can turn everything into the good of His people. Imprisonment for the name of the Lord is not a curse. The Lord can turn it into a source of strength and courage,” said one of the Christians, who wished to thank those who had been praying for them.
…Below is World Watch Monitor’s original report, published 15 May.
Nervous wait for Ethiopians after baptism arrests
Seven Ethiopian Christians have been charged with holding “illegal meetings in secret locations”, a charge they deny as they say they have fulfilled legal requirements.
The men were released on bail after a court hearing in the town of Assela, 100 miles south of the capital, Addis Ababa, on Monday (11 May).
Local church leaders clubbed together to pay the necessary bail charge of 5000 Birr ($250) each, after police were granted another week to conclude investigations.
The Christians were first arrested on Saturday 25 April, following an ordinary service, in which 40 new Christians were baptised. They insist the church had all the necessary approvals for gathering in place.
“They have informed government officials about their ministry and their meetings both orally and in writing,” said one local Christian, who wished to remain anonymous.
During the raid, an estimated 15 police officers surrounded the church’s meeting place, then arrested the three church leaders, before chasing after four of the newly baptised Christians, who had fled out of fear. The four are all from Muslim backgrounds and had faced pressure from their families to return to Islam. They were arrested at the local bus station.
Police also confiscated documents providing details on church membership. Church leaders say they are concerned the incident may lead to even greater pressure on the already vulnerable community of new Christians.
After their arrest, the Christians were held for two days at the police station, before being transferred to the local prison. They first appeared at court on Monday 27 April, where the judge granted police an extra week to investigate. A week later, the pattern was repeated.
The men are said to be in good spirits, despite the difficult circumstances they are facing.
“The overall situation in the prison is very difficult. More than 168 inmates are stuffed into one small space. The Christians each have just enough space to lie on their sides at night. One of them has to sleep in the area they use as a toilet,” said an anonymous source.
“The Christians each have just enough space to lie on their sides at night. One of them has to sleep in the area they use as a toilet.”
Ethiopia is No. 22 on Open Doors’ World Watch List, which ranks the countries where life is hardest for Christians. Two thirds of the population is Christian, but ahead of parliamentary elections on 24 May, the government is thought to be suspicious about religion in general and Christians in particular.
North Ethiopia was one of the first Christian nations in the world – from the 4th Century, reports Operation World, a global missions handbook. It reports that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was the state church from 1270 until the 1974 Marxist revolution which overthrew Emperor Haile Selassie. The Marxist regime persecuted Christians, especially evangelicals, with many churches destroyed and congregations scattered. Since 1991, when the Marxist regime collapsed, there has been, technically, freedom of worship and witness, but, says Operation World, increasingly active and ambitious Islamist groups threaten the delicate balance of religious powers.
On 19 April, Islamic State released a video purporting to show the execution of 28 Ethiopian Christians in Libya. Two of them, Eyasu Yikunoamlak and Balcha Belete, were later identified by their families, who said they had left Ethiopia two months prior and were attempting to migrate to Europe.
Last week a further 27 Ethiopians were reportedly “rescued” from Islamist groups in Libya.