Ethiopian Federal Court Hears Case against Two Wrongfully Accused Christian Converts
By Cameron Thomas, Regional Manager for Africa
11/14/2014 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Wednesday, two Christian converts from Islam—Obsa Ogeto, 32, and Soka Araro, 31—appeared in the Oromiya Region Federal Court of Ethiopia on charges of growing and distributing illegal substances, punishable by up to seven years imprisonment. The two were arrested by Shashemene police in August, following their public conversion to Christianity. One of the two accused was able to meet bail, while the other has served three months in detention while awaiting trial.
Immediately following their arrest, ICC contacted Peter (name changed upon request), a relative of one of the two accused converts, to inquire about the charges. According to this relative, and other members of the West Arsi Christian community, the arrests were made on evidence planted by local Muslims led by members of the families of the accused. According to the lawyer ICC has supplied for the two converts’ defense (name withheld for security concerns), both men were falsely accused by communities and corrupt local officials as punishment for leaving Islam—the dominant religion in West Arsi.
According to an eyewitness, local Muslims threatened to frame Peter, Obsa and Soka as criminals should they refuse to return to Islam. Shortly after the three converts refused to leave their newfound faith, local Muslims attempted to spear Peter before planting evidence of the production and distribution of illegal substances in the converts’ shared compound. When notified by those same Muslims, police then stormed that compound to discover the planted evidence before arresting Peter, Obsa and Soka.
Dehydrated and suffering from hemorrhoids as a result of the poor food quality and unsanitary conditions of his cell, Obsa was repeatedly denied access to medical attention by local police. Eventually, ICC was able to have a doctor visit and treat Obsa in his cell.
Following last week’s hearing, the converts’ legal defense will collect and submit its counter evidence at a later court date.
The wrongful imprisonment of Christians in Muslim-majority areas across Ethiopia is becoming an increasingly prominent issue. Over the course of the past month, four Christian elders, involved in an outstanding legal battle over ownership rights to the land on which their church is built, were arrested and detained for three days in Dalocha without charge. A Christian evangelist in Shashemene was arrested while preaching publicly and detained for 30 hours without charge.
ICC’s Regional Manager for Africa, Cameron Thomas, said “The abuse of legal institutions by local, increasingly radical Muslim majorities across Ethiopia is an infringement on the rights of Ethiopia’s Christians to worship freely, and it must come to an end. In just the past three months, ICC has documented the wrongful arrest and detention of eight innocent Christians, all of whom have been targeted by corrupt local officials for their Christian faith. When freedom of religion is violated by those tasked with upholding laws that guarantee right of conscience, the international community must speak out in support of those on the ground fighting for the restoration of justice and the ousting of corruption.”
Pictured on the far right is Obsa Ogeto. Immediately to his left is the rel-
ative (name withheld upon request) that brought the case to ICC. Immed-
iately to his left is Soka Araro
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