By Troy Augustine
5/22/15 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) –“Palus Ejigu” was crammed into a tight jail cell with barely enough room to sleep on the floor, but that was only the beginning of the terror that he would face for his faith in Christ. Just five days after being released from prison in Asella, Ethiopia, he was forced to kneel down, with a pistol pressed between his teeth, and was given the mission to kill two pastor friends, or else his children would die.
“I was commanded to follow the instruction of four covered, armed, persons who spoke in the Oromo language. I was also slapped two times and asked to kneel down. They put their pistol in my mouth and gave me instructions to kill pastors ‘Nebiyou’ and ‘Legesse,’” “Ejigu” told International Christian Concern’s (ICC) Ethiopia staffer.
“Ejigu” was instructed to accomplish the mission in three months’ time. If successful, he was promised an easier life abroad, but if he refused, the masked assailants vowed to murder his three children. His wife’s Muslim family had already forcibly taken them away from him, and now he faced this terrifying threat.
Christians Imprisoned on Trumped-Up Charges
On April 25, an estimated 15 police officers surrounded a Christian worship service in Asella about 100 miles south of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. The congregation of “Church of Asella” had just witnessed the baptisms of 40 new believers in Christ.
“We were gathered for sharing and encouraging each other with the Word of God,” “Ejigu” recounted. “After we finished the service, police imprisoned us. Some of our friends ran away when they saw the way we were harshly handled,” he added.
Witnesses reported that the police harassed several worshipers and four new converts from Islam fled the scene. Police later arrested them also at a nearby bus station. The number of arrested Christians also reportedly included three church leaders.
The men were held at a police station for two days until they appeared in court where the judge ordered for the case to be investigated.
“Ejigu” and his friends were charged with “holding illegal meetings in secret locations,” and he remained unsure about how long he would stay in jail. The men insisted they had fulfilled all of the legal obligations to hold their meeting, but all “Ejigu” could cling to was his faith in Christ.
“Our main crime was preaching the Good News,” “Ejigu” said.
During the investigation, “Ejigu” said he and the others were taken to court twice with no tangible evidence found against them. They were moved to the Assela prison where they were detained for two more weeks.
“The overall situation in the prison is very difficult. More than 168 inmates are stuffed into one small space. The Christians each have just enough space to lie on their sides at night. One of them has to sleep in the area they use as a toilet,” an anonymous source said.
The men were released May 12 on 250 dollars bail each. “Ejigu” says his faith in Jesus helped him to endure this difficult persecution.
“We count ourselves as privileged to be imprisoned like Paul,” he said
“Ejigu” said the court warned their accusers to produce evidence or the charges would be dropped. During the investigation, officials reportedly confiscated documents about church membership. Church leaders fear the persecution will add immense burden on the vulnerable community, particularly on the new Muslim converts who are already facing pressure from their families to return to Islam.
“Ejigu” claims that three Muslim government officials were behind the arrests.
“If the case is not approved with evidence and dropped by the court, it seems those officials were using the government institutions to attack Christianity,” ICC’s Ethiopia staffer said.
The cost that “Ejigu” has paid to follow Christ has been steep. With charges pending over his head, his family estranged, and his children threatened, he now prays for strength and protection for his family during this difficult time.
“For the past five and a half years, I was struggling to care for these three kids,” he said. “Now, I am just praying to God to provide them a safe place.”
For interviews Please Contact Troy Augustine, Regional Manager for Africa: [email protected]
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