By Michael Ireland, Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net)
ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA (ANS, Oct. 22, 2016) — Police have re-arrested an 18-year-old Ethiopian Christian woman only hours after she was released on bail.
World Watch Monitor (www.worldwatchmonitor.org) reports the woman, known as Deborah, was detained with three younger teenage girls for their part in handing out a book about Christianity in Babile, a town 550km from the capital, Addis Ababa.
Local Muslims said the book was an insult to Islam, and this led to an attack on a church and the arrest of the four teenagers.
World Watch Monitor said it is not yet clear why Deborah was re-arrested. A police investigation failed to bring formal charges against her and the three other girls. Their bail application was approved by a judge, and the four teenagers were released after paying Birr 3,000 (about US$135).
The prosecutor’s office is seeking advice on how to proceed with the case, sources said.
World Watch Monitor had previously reported (Oct. 11) that the three teenage Christian girls were arrested following the distribution of a Christian book in the town of Babile, about 550km east of the capital, Addis Ababa. Babile is close to the historic walled city of Harar, also known as the City of Saints, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its Islamic cultural significance.
The three girls — Eden, 15, Gifti, 14, and Mihiret, 14, first appeared in court on September 28 — with an 18-year-old woman known to her friends as Deborah. Police asked for 14 days to further investigate the case, but the judge awarded six days. On October 3, the girls appeared in court again; the judge awarded officials a further three days to take the girls to a nearby town for medical examinations to determine their exact ages (they don’t have official dates of birth, and the age at which Ethiopia deems someone should be tried in an adult court is 18).
The judge postponed the hearing without giving a reason; the case was then transferred to a higher court in Harar and their lawyers applied for bail.
When the girls came to court in Harar, the prosecutor reportedly asked for more time to finalize his charges, so the judge adjourned until Friday, October 14.
World Watch Monitor said the case follows the distribution of a Christian book (in Ethiopia’s main Amharic language) by a local author, ‘Let’s speak the truth in love: Answers to questions by Ahmed Deedat,’ that sets out to answer questions posed by the late South African Islamic scholar (and former head of the Islamic Propagation Centre International) about the Christian faith. Local Christians decided to distribute it following cross-cultural evangelism training.
Local Muslims said the book was an insult to Islam and on September 19 a group attacked the Protestant Meserete Kristos Church (MKC) in Babile, damaging its doors and windows. MKC is a member of the Mennonite World Conference.
World Watch Monitor said town officials quickly arranged a meeting between religious leaders the next day, at which leaders of both the MKC and also the Full Gospel Church (FGC) apparently apologized for the distribution of the book, from which they distanced themselves. Following the meeting, officials arrested a man called Bekele, as well as Deborah, Eden and Eden’s mother.
The news agency said that at a wider public meeting the same day, town officials criticized “some elements” who wanted to “incite religious clashes” and warned that they would take further measures against such “instigators.” A local Christian who challenged this — by pointing out that Islamic books are in circulation in Babile, but that no similar action is taken — has since been required to report to the police regularly. He has been pressured to apologize for his statements, which he has refused to do.
That night the FGC also suffered an attack, resulting in similar damage to that of the MKC.
World Watch Monitor went on to report that threats against church leaders continued; the next day (September 21), a group of about 20 Muslim youths reportedly visited the house of the MKC leader and warned him to leave the area or risk losing his life and property.
Officials released Eden’s mother on Sep.21 and Bekele on Sep. 22, but arrested Gifti and Mihiret the next day.
The agency explained there is concern over the wellbeing of the girls; Eden suffered a beating on her first night in prison. But according to WWM’s source, who was able to visit the girls in prison and speak to Eden and Deborah, their faith is unshaken. “This [suffering] is an honor for us. We should expect persecution. We are not afraid. We are singing and praying here in prison,” Eden said. Deborah added, “It is an honor to be jailed for God’s Kingdom.”
Ethiopia says it guarantees freedom of religion* (see note below) and in the cities there is mostly peaceful co-existence between people of different faiths. However, Evangelical Christians, (including those who formerly adhered to Islam or to the Orthodox Church) face discrimination, threats and sometimes attacks, the agency reported.
According to the 2016 World Watch List compiled by Open Doors, which works worldwide with Christians under pressure for their faith, Ethiopia is 18th of 50 countries in which it is most difficult to live as a Christian.
*Article 27, Freedom of Religion, Conscience and Thought:
1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or in private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
2. No-one shall be subject to coercion by force or any other means, which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.
3. Parents and legal guardians shall have the right, in accordance with their belief, to give their children religious or moral instruction.
4. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others and to ensure the secular nature of the State.
Photo captions: 1) Harar, also known as the City of Saints, is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its Islamic cultural significance. (World Watch Monitor). 2) Ahmed Deedat. 3) Michael Ireland.
About the Writer: Michael Ireland is a volunteer internet journalist serving as Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, as well as an Ordained Minister who has served with ASSIST Ministries and written for ASSIST News Service since its beginning in 1989. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China, and Russia. Please consider helping Michael cover his expenses in bringing news of the Persecuted Church, by logging-on to: https://actintl.givingfuel.com/ireland-michael
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