By BosNewsLife Africa Service
ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA (BosNewsLife)– A Christian evangelist remained behind bars in an Ethiopian prison Wednesday, June 26,nearly three months after he was detained on trumped-up charges of “terrorism and treason” because of his Christian faith and activities, rights activists said.
Alemayehu Legese was reportedly arrested in late March in the city of Dodola, some 290 kilometers (180 miles) south of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.
He was taken into police custody after admitting to owning literature that “discussed the history of Islam from a Christian perspective,” said advocacy group International Christian Concern (ICC), which closely followed the case.
Legese, a student at Dodola Mekane Yesus Bible School, had dropped the literature off at a copy shop, according to Christians familiar with the situation.
“A Muslim employee subsequently contacted authorities to demand Legese face consequences for violating the widespread cultural belief that Christians, being inferior citizens, are morally insufficient to learn the history of Islam,” ICC told BosNewsLife.
Additionally “Legese was also known for his outwardly evangelistic nature,” the advocacy group said. “It is believed that because of this, as well as the fact that he coordinated faith-based activities for youths at his local church, Legese was made a target for arrest and ultimately arbitrarily detained.”
In court, Legese’s lawyer objected to the charges of both terrorism and treason, and as a result, the court ordered public prosecutors to modify their charges against Legese, trial observers said.
However, “The prosecution has yet to do so. Until the prosecution submits new charges against Legese, he will continue to sit in jail, awaiting charges that may take years to be submitted,” ICC warned.
“I think the evangelist is arrested to discourage other Christians from teaching [the Gospel of Jesus Christ] in the area…” a Christian legal expert said in remarks distributed by ICC.
“All the government officials in the area are Muslims and this has created a big problem [for the Christians],” the expert added, speaking on condition of anonymity amid security concerns.
ICC’s Regional Manager for Africa, William Stark, told BosNewsLife that the detention underscored “growing persecution of [devoted] believers in the Muslim-dominated areas of Ethiopia.”
He warned that the public prosecutor charges against Legese of “terrorism and treason” were “an alarming development, as it indicates the manner in which Islamic radicals have infiltrated the justice system in the country.” ICC said it had urged its American supporters to the Ethiopian Embassy either by phone at (202) 364-1200 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org “to demand the immediate freedom for Legese.”
Ethiopian officials did not comment. It remained unclear whether Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, a Protestant Christian, would intervene. He became acting prime minister in September 2012, ending a period of uncertainty following the death of long-term leader Meles Zenawi, and was to stay in the post till new elections in 2015.
Local Christians have said that despite the political changes, especially evangelical believers have been suffering in the country. Since 1960, the percentage of evangelical believers has grown from 0.8 percent to nearly 20 percent of the country’s roughly 85 million population, according to Operation World, a respected book with prayer information.
Ethiopian Christians have reportedly attributed the growth to a period of fierce persecution under a Marxist regime known as the Dergue. Formed after a 1974 coup that deposed Emperor Haile Selassie,the Dergue was led by Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam, who repressed religious freedom until 1991, when another coup forced his ouster, according to experts.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).