Sunday, July 14, 2024

Church rifts ensue uncertain times


Demonstration called off

Ethiopia’s government and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) have been at odds for the past three weeks, with the church alleging that the government is aiding a group that staged an anti-coup attempt on the sacred Synod.
The conflict started on January 22 when three Orthodox bishops announced the formation of the ostensibly 25-episcopate-strong “Holy Synod of Oromia Nations and Nationalities.” Three days later, the EOTC’s Holy Synod, which represents the majority of the nation’s more than 50 million adherents, formally excommunicated each of them.
The now-excommunicated “illegitimate group” was criticized by the EOTC, led by His Holiness Patriarch Abune Mathias, over remarks made by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
Speaking to cabinet members earlier in the week, Abiy urged the adversaries on each side has their “own realities” to which His Holiness in response said, “The government should not meddle in the ecclesiastical and canonical matters of the church.”
The patriarchate has refuted the charges made by the dissident bishops that the Church discriminates against Oromian congregations and practices linguistic and cultural hegemony there.
Following the recent conflict, security authorities recently killed about 30 Ethiopian Orthodox believers in Shashemene, Oromia Region, for defending their church from “the politically-motivated” isolated group. Over the past few weeks, the conflict between the government and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has intensified which has led government to place red beret soldiers and heavily armed federal police on the streets of major cities, including the capital, Addis Ababa.
On February 1, the Synod of the EOTC sent a warning to the government, threatening that if corrective action was not taken to, that is, “To uphold the institutional supremacy of the Church, the rights and interests given to it by law, and by giving appropriate correction to the illegal actions of the breakaway Archbishops,” a worldwide peaceful demonstration would be called for on February 12.
In response to the Church’s call for a demonstration, the government has released comments claiming that certain individuals and groups are attempting to overturn the government violently by using the internal affairs of the EOTC.
The EOTC, on the other hand, asserts that the Government is supporting a group that attempted to overthrow the church.
One of the claims made by the church is that the head of the EOTC was kidnapped at Jimma Airport and that people were killed for attempting to defend their churches from the isolated group. Instead of defending the centuries-old Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the government has been allowing the isolated group to invade and rob its churches.
The EOTC announced that it will proceed with its scheduled demonstrations in Ethiopia peacefully and requested the government to protect the population while obeying the law, indicating that peaceful demonstrations are guaranteed under the Ethiopian Constitution.
The rebel archbishops have also urged their supporters to attend marches on the same day in Addis Ababa and other cities around the nation.
The Joint Security and Intelligence Task Force issued a statement in which it expressed concern that “agitations are being made to use the opportunity to take the lives of citizens and to engage in other conflict-provoking activities,” adding that, “this approach is opening the door for anti-peace forces working to destroy our country by using the incident as a cover.”
The Ethiopian National Defense Forces, the Federal Police Commission, and the Information Network Security Agency, which make up the Joint Security and Intelligence Task Force, further blamed the social media activists for escalating the situation and fomenting violence.
Given that there is no permitted form of demonstration from the relevant body, the joint task force also issued a warning to the entire populace to refrain from “illegal demonstration and conflict-inciting activities.”
Any harm done to the populace and the nation is the responsibility of “any force that acts illegally and those who try to coordinate and participate in the demonstrations.” In an effort to maintain the nation’s peace and security, the joint task force will take the required legal action, according to the statement.
However, the church said on Thursday, February 9 that it would summon the planned peaceful demonstration whether the government allowed it or not, using its legal and international rights, if it didn’t receive all the answers to its inquiries and discovered it had arrested church members within 48 hours. Schools in the nation’s capital were closed on Friday due to the tense mood in the city, and internet connectivity has been poor in many parts of the country in recent hours amid protests over the crisis.
Additionally, the church said on Friday, February 10, 2023, that it had a conversation with the Prime Minister about the issue; to which PM Abiy expressed believes that all of the church’s queries are legitimate and accurate, citing that the issue will be solved in due course. After the discussion the Church called off the demonstration on Saturday February 11. The government has also pledged to address demands from the Church.
In its latest report released on Friday February 10, 2023, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, a panel of independent specialists, cited that at least 13 people died at the hands of “Ethiopian security forces aid workers” who used “disproportionate force” to disperse an attempt to occupy the church of St. Michael the Archangel.
The commission, in its report published this Friday, denounces a campaign of repression against followers of the Tewahedo Orthodox Church who have opposed the creation of this new synod, and who have been victims of “beatings, intimidation, expulsion from churches and extrajudicial arrests”.
Additionally, the EOTC has asked the Federal High Court’s Lideta division’s fundamental rights and freedoms bench to impose a three-month injunction against the three breakaway archbishops and the 25 appointed episcopate until the church is ready to file a formal lawsuit against them. On Friday, the Ethiopian Federal High Court issued an order of injunction in favor of the Church that forbids schismatics from entering any EOTC parish or church. The court has mandated that the Oromia police commission, Oromia regional state, and the ministry of peace federal police to carry out the decision.
Different sister churches of Ethiopia and worldwide including the Roma Catholic Church, Coptic church of Egypt and others have shown their solidarity in supporting the church and opposing the split group.

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