Ethiopian gov’t calls for talks as Orthodox Church organizations plan demonstration

Ethiopian Orthodox Church Organizations are approached by the government as they plan a demonstration against recurring attacks on the church

Church _ Orthodox _ Ethiopia
Bahiru Tefera, speaking during the press conference. credit: DW Amharic

September 10, 2019

It is common to see conversations in social media and elsewhere, among the followers of Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, one of the most ancient churches in the entire Christian world that the church has been under government-supported subtle attack throughout TPLF dominated administration in the last 28 years.

What the church endured since Abiy Ahmed became Prime Minister of Ethiopia, however, does seem to suggest that the attack has become an open one and bolder.  Several churches have been burned after what seems to be a politically motivated attack in various ethnic-based regional states Ethiopia. At least three priests had been burned alive – seemingly just for being who they are in terms of religious identity. The general laity came under increasing pressure and harassment, especially in regions like Oromia, just to mention some, in a country where some protestant pastors are protected by government paratroopers.

Now the Ethiopian Church seems to be determined to break the silence and tell the world and Ethiopians as well, the story of multi-faceted attacks on Orthodox Tewahdo church. 

As ten organizations that are under Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC), including the biggest organization Mahibre Kidusan with hundreds of thousands of members in and outside of the country, plan to take to the streets en masse on September 15 to protest attacks with impunity, the Ethiopian government wants to engage them through dialogue so that these organizations could cancel their planned demonstrations in the capital Addis Ababa and elsewhere.

It is at a time when organizations affiliated with Mahibere Kidusan and the Orthodox Church in North America and Europe, among others, that Ethiopian government called for dialogue before the protest.

Deutsche Welle Amharic service reported on Tuesday that the organizers held a press conference in the capital Addis Ababa.  And they have confirmed that Abiy Ahmed’s government wants a dialogue with them to discuss the questions they have.

Government has got a positive response from the organizing committee.  They want to see plans that the government has, if there is one, to end violence and attack against the Ethiopian church.

However, they have not yet canceled the September 15 demonstration in the capital Addis Ababa and elsewhere, including outside of Ethiopia.  And they did not disclose details of the plan if the protest is to take place as planned.

What they disclosed so far is that the organizers do not want any politically affiliated group, including Baladera Council which is said to be taking part in the protest on the same day supporting Ethiopian church cause, to join the protest they organize.

Seifu Alemayehu, who is head of Mahibere Kidusan, disclosed that press conference is scheduled for Friday, September 13, 2019, and they are expected to talk about the outcome of the meeting with government and next steps – including the September 4 protest if it is going to happen.

It remains, however, unclear as to when they are having a meeting with government representatives.

The Holy Synod of Ethiopian Orthodox church held an emergency meeting last week on the theme of increasing attack on Ethiopian church and to discuss the demand by a group of ethnic Oromo nationalists who sought to divide the Ethiopian Church along ethnic lines by forming an ethnic-based administration and patriarchy.

Members of the Holy Synod also held a meeting with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in the Office of the Prime Minister to bring the increasing attack on the church to the attention of his administration. The Holy Synod demanded an apology from the government for not taking measures in the line of discharging government duties of protecting the right to worship.

The prime minister, however, declined to apologize on behalf of his government citing that he has personally done something good to the Orthodox faith. Soon after the meeting with Ethiopian church Holy Synod members, Abiy Ahmed showed up at the Millennium Hall to thank and award a protest pastor. He told the crowd that “Orthodox is our pride.” 

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