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Government and police officials are complicit to land grab, intimidation, and infringement upon family’s religious freedom

By Troy Augustine

5/21/15 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that a Muslim mob  in Deder, Ethiopia, has attacked a Christian man and forced him out of his home on the threat of death. Local Muslims want to appropriate his land so that they can build a mosque.  Their actions are despite recent court rulings that guaranteed his property rights.

Fikere Mengistu’s family has owned their land for more than 90 years, but a mob of more than 20 Muslims in Kufanzik village remain intent on forcibly building a mosque on the Mengistu farm in defiance of the law. Muslims make up the religious majority in the area. They have destroyed his fence and have looted his possessions. In addition, the local police are complicit in these attempts to steal his land.

“Their first plan was to kill my husband,” Mengistu’s wife, Haregewoyan, said. “Now, he has escaped from the area. We are fasting and praying for God to rescue us from this forceful action,” she added.

ICC provided legal assistance to Fikere Mengistu to retain his land when Muslims previously attempted to steal it in late 2014. He won the legal battle, but now they’ve returned and are attempting to take it by force. The authorities are letting it happen. In the past, he has faced threats from local police officers, has been forced to pay bribes, and has been imprisoned simply because he is a Christian.

The harassment started when Mengistu built a house for his 93-year-old mother two years ago. Fearing that the village’s 38 Christians would use the house to gather for prayer, dozens of Muslims began to occupy his land and would remain for weeks at a time shouting “Allahu akhbar,” meaning “God is great.” They even destroyed his elderly mother’s home as they attempted to drive the Mengistu family off their land and use it to build a mosque. The Muslims claimed Mengistu’s land belonged to the government.

However, courts at the state level (East Harerghe Zone level), and the district level (Deder) both upheld Mengistu’s land title in November 2014 and April 2015, respectively. Despite the court decisions, Deder Police Commander Abadir Yuya claimed they were not valid and needed to be reviewed. Since then, the mob has continued harassing the Mengistu family.

“We did our best try to defend our faith based on the law of the country and with all our resources, including ICC budget, to pay for our legal expenses. Muslims are out of the control of the government and the law. What can we do?” Mengistu said.

The Muslim rioters have resumed construction of a mosque on the Mengistu property and have designated the structure as a voting precinct, having placed a ballot box there for the upcoming national election, Sunday, May 24. ICC’s Ethiopia staffer says the mob has employed this strategy in an attempt to legally justify continued construction.

“They are expanding their new mosque and building fences,” Mengistu’s wife said fearfully. She remains with her five children, aged mother-in-law, and 30 other Christians praying on the property. “Please help me protect my land and secure my family and the fellow Christians,” she continued.

The main culprits perpetuating the illegal construction include Zone Police representative Abdi, militia leader Heder Abdi, and District Administrator Tajur Shami, who ordered the militia to protect the project.

ICC is working with the Ethiopian Lawyers Association to advocate for the Mengistu family’s property rights. Progress has stalled until after the election because government officials remain focused on election-related issues at this time.

ICC urges all concerned readers to contact East Harerge Zone Administrator Asegid at +251-91-574-44-56, the Ethiopian Ministry of Justice at +251-11-554-18-68, or Ethiopian Ambassador Girma Birru at (202) 274-4570 and express their desire for justice and protection for Mengistu and his family.

 ICC’s Regional Manager of Africa Troy Augustine said, “The continued harassment of the Mengistu family in Deder is unacceptable. Governing authorities in the region are charged to uphold the Ethiopian law and the decisions of the courts instead of bending to pressure from the religious majority or worse, participating in the persecution of Christians through illegal activities. These men should be stripped of their authority if they fail to uphold the Ethiopian law and religious freedom guaranteed for all Ethiopian citizens in the constitution.”

For interviews Please Contact Troy Augustine, Regional Manager for Africa: [email protected]

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