February 14, 2023

Arrest of dissident voices intensifies in relation to Ethiopian Orthodox Church dispute

City: Addis AbabaNewsCurrent Affairs

Addis Zeybe learned from the families of the popular political analyst Tewodros Asfaw that he has been taken from his home by the police

Avatar: Abiy Solomon
By Abiy Solomon

Abiy is the Editor-in-Chief of Addis Zeybe. He has intense experience in journalism, visual communication, and online media. Abiy has worked in various editorial positions for The Daily Monitor, The Reporter, Fortune, and BBC Media Action.

Arrest of dissident voices intensifies in relation to Ethiopian Orthodox Church dispute
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Credit: Social Media/ Addis Zeybe

The Ethiopian government security forces are arresting individuals who have been voicing resistance and opposition related to the undergoing dispute in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC). 

Several emerging reports are disclosing that arrest of prominent individuals, including church leaders, holy fathers, the faithful, social media activists, and journalists is intensifying in the capital and other towns in connection with the dispute in the church. 

EOTC’s lawyers told BBC Amharic that over 200 believers have been arrested and taken to a detention center at a military camp in Awash Sebat town, about 214 km from Addis Ababa. 

On Feb 13, the Ethiopian Federal Police arraigned 12 individuals who are members of the church to court saying it suspected them of an “act of terrorism and attempt of overthrowing the constitution by force”. 

While seven are released on bail, the court gave an eight-day investigation time on the remaining five upon the police’s request including Mihreteab Assefa, a renowned spiritual preacher of the church.

On the same day, the police brought to court seven leaders and members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Association of Youth and Adults with the allegation of “establishing informal rebel group for advocating their own political agenda against the church’s teachings targetted at inciting ethnic conflicts and overthrowing the constitution”.

In similar news, two clergies among the excommunicated group, who have been heading to the church’s Holy Synod to ask for forgiveness, were reported to be abducted on Feb 12. Besides, Sentayehu Chekol, a member of the Balderas opposition party is known to be detained during the past weekend. 

Today, Addis Zeybe learned from the families of the popular political analyst Tewodros Asfaw that he has been taken from his home by the police. 

The dispute arose in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church after the report of the ordination of 26 episcopates and the installation of a new Holy Synod by a collective of clergies. The church revoked the act as “against the church’s canonical orders” and excommunicated the breakaway clerics.

The church blamed government law enforcement agencies for aiding the group it condemned as “illegal” and failing to execute their responsibilities of defending abuses committed against the church. 

A number of the church’s congregation and personalities from various walks of life have been voicing their opposition to the act of the rebel clergy and demonstrating unison of the faithful and the church throughout the past few weeks. 

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) disclosed in a report on Feb 10 that at least eight people were killed by government forces and their accomplices in Shashemene town during a clash related to the dispute in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church

“People and religious leaders who stood against the dissident bishops were beaten, harassed, expelled from churches, forcibly restricted of mobility, and illegally arrested,” according to EHRC.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church Holy Synod announced on Feb 11 that the peaceful demonstration it called for Feb 12, has been postponed to an indefinite time after meeting with PM Abiy Ahmed, given the government's assurance of responding to the questions the church demanded to be addressed.

The church affirmed in its statement that it has been decided to put an end to the issues affecting beatitude bishops, diocese employees, serving priests, and the faithful who are currently being jailed, harassed, and mistreated, as well as freeing those who have been arrested so they can continue pursuing their spiritual services in peace and freedom.

Lawyers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church told BBC Amharic that reports of different situations signify that arrests and harassment have been intensified after the government agreed to let the church resolve the issue without interfering with the church’s administrative, religious, and canonical orders.