Two Evangelists in Ethiopia Released from Prison
Judge acquits Christians falsely accused of insulting Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
10/28/2009 Ethiopia (CDN)-The latest in a series of false charges against two Ethiopian evangelists was put to rest on Friday (Oct. 23), and they were released.
A court in Debiretabor , Ethiopia acquitted the two evangelists of insulting the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) in prison, an accusation made by fellow inmates after the two were jailed on false charges of offering money for people to convert. The charge that the two Christians insulted the EOC was orchestrated by EOC members both inside and outside the prison, according to area church leaders.
Temesgen Alemayehu and Tigist Welde Amanuel had been sentenced to prison for six months on the false charge of offering money to people to convert but successfully appealed the punishment; after a lower court in Amhara state had thrown out their appeal on Sept. 21, the State Supreme Court in Bahir Dar ordered them to be to be released after paying a 500 birr (US$40) fine.
Before they could be released, however, inmates signed a petition raising the second charge against Alemayehu and Amanuel. On this charge of insulting the EOC while in prison, the judge rejected witnesses’ testimony as contradictory and of no value.
“Thank you to those who prayed for us,” Alemayehu said after his release, adding that he was eager to return to ministry.
“The enemy has tried to frustrate us and delay our freedom,” said Amanuel. “But through prayers and God’s intervention, we are now released from prison. We thank those who prayed on our behalf.”
Alemayehu and Amanuel, of Wengel Lealem church in Addis Ababa , had gone to Debiretabor, Amhara state in July to help establish a church.
“Temesgen and Tigist are extremely happy to again reunite with the church,” said a Christian source, adding that the two evangelists would return to Addis Ababa .
On July 22 they had appeared at district court in Debiretabor to hear charges against them that they were offering money and gifts to people to change their religion; Christian sources said witnesses falsely testified to that effect. Members of the EOC produced the false witnesses, the sources said.
Alemayehu and Amanuel were incarcerated for three months and six days.
They would have been released after their sentences were reduced to the fines, but on Oct. 7 the district prosecutor claimed they would not appear for the next court date, and the judge decided to keep them in prison. Church leaders in Debiretabor said Alemayehu was suffering from kidney infections and had sought permission to get treatment, but prison officials refused.
Debiretabor is the seat for the south Gondar Zone administration in Amhara state. As in the rest of Amhara, Debiretabor’s population is predominantly EOC with hostile attitudes towards evangelicals.
The two Christians’ arrests stemmed from a July 19 incident in which passersby began to question them as they were preaching on a roadside. Christian sources said a heated argument led to a group attack on the two evangelists, wounding Alemayehu. Amanuel sustained minor injuries, the sources said .
Christian sources said a group within the EOC called “Mahibere Kidusan” (“Fellowship of Saints”) had incited members to attack the two evangelists as they were proclaiming Christ. The increasingly powerful group’s purpose is to counter all reform movements within the EOC and shield the denomination from outside threats.
In some cases, the sources said, EOC priests have urged attacks against Christians, and government authorities influenced by Mahibere Kidusan have infringed on Christians’ rights.