A group of Ethiopian Christians has been detained and denied bail after they were caught praying on a mountain in the African nation’s Amhara Region. The group hailing from the north-western town of Chagni were arrested on suspicion of praying against the government.
The seven male members of Meserete Kiristos church were followed by a local militia group as they traveled up a mountain to pray, as reported by World Watch Monitor. When the Christians prayed “against Satan’s power and kingdom,” the group accused them of referring to the state government.
The group of believers has not yet been formally charged, though they were refused bail at a court hearing on Jan 2 and have yet to be informed of their next date before the judge.
Ethiopia is known for its persecution of the Christian community. It currently sits at 29th on the newly released 2018 Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most dangerous to live as a Christian.
“Government regulations restrict the freedom of religion, while in some parts of the country, conservative Muslims pose challenges for believers, especially converts,” Open Doors explained in a fact sheet:
“Secularism, particularly government bans on religious broadcasting and religious activities within schools, restrict the freedoms of Christians to worship, teach and preach. Meanwhile, those who leave the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) denomination face persecution from family members, communities and government officials that are members of the denomination.”
Restrictions on religious practice have been ramped up in recent months, with Ethiopia’s northern Tigray State even considering the adoption of a new law that would restrict Christian activities to within the confines of officially registered church compounds.
Despite the increasing suppression of the church in this poverty-stricken nation, Christianity remains the most popular religion – 63 percent of the population class themselves as followers of Jesus. As indigenous faiths have declined, Protestantism has become the fastest-growing religious group in Ethiopia.
Open Doors further reported that Protestants who worship outside of “traditional denominations” experience the worst persecution from the government and EOC.
“Arrests and disappearances of believers are common in the country, and those who leave Islam or the EOC face harsh mistreatment, sometimes being denied access to community resources,” the fact sheet continues. “In some cases, Christians are cut off from society completely.”
Open Doors reported that there were over 100 violent incidents against Christians recorded throughout the country over 2017.
A particularly brutal attack took place last year when a violent mob attacked the Full Gospel Church in Tikil Dingaye, about 12 miles from the ancient Ethiopian city of Gondar in Amhara State. The group destroyed the entire meeting hall and other offices. As Open Doors detailed:
“They stole money from members and assaulted a few of them. One member was so badly injured by a blow to the face that his front teeth needed to be removed. The mob also destroyed the accommodation of an evangelist living on the same compound.”
It was reported that the mob was incited by a well-known figure in the EOC, Mahibere Kidusan. Open Doors details that Kidusan is part of “a very organized group operating inside the Ethiopian Orthodox Church to protect the traditions and dominance of the EOC in the Ethiopian society.”
Staggeringly, instead of arresting the violent mob, authorities took the evangelist into custody after the attack for alleged “illegal activities to incite religious clashes.” When the church group requested protection for their future services, they were subsequently told that they were “no longer allowed to conduct religious services in a residential area.”