News: Court to rule on Orthodox Church’s request to ban breakaway archbishops for three months as it prepares to press charges

The three breakaway Archbishops at the center of the ongoing controversy who have been excommunicated by the EOTC Holy Synod are, from left, Abune Eustathius, Abune Sawiros, and Abune Zena Markos. Picture: Sinoodoosii Oromiyaa

Addis Abeba – The Federal High Court, Lideta division, fundamental rights, and freedoms bench on Monday has adjourned until today to issue a ruling on a request filed by the Holy Synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) to ban the three breakaway archbishops and the 25 appointee episcopate they appointed from accessing the church’s possessions for three months until it prepares to file formal lawsuit against them.

The request was filed at the court on Friday, 03 February, but was adjourned until Monday when judges examined the request and listened to explanations given by the church’s lawyers.

The Church’s legal team said in a presser subsequent to the court proceeding on Monday that the request included a strict order particularly against Oromia Region’s law enforcement agencies to refrain from supporting the breakaway group and killing faithful who resisted their forceful takeover of churches and diocese offices in the Oromia Region. Adding that they also asked for an order against the law enforcement agencies to properly execute their mandate of protecting the church’s possessions.

Andualem Bewketu, chairperson of the legal team, said that the church also requested the court to issue order towards government bodies, including Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, so that they discharge their responsibilities properly, refrain from making remarks that may lead to further abuse against the church.

Responding to the judges’ questions concerning the court’s jurisdiction over religious affairs, Andualem said that the legal team explained to the judges that the case isn’t between two religious groups, rather it is between individual defendants whose religious authorities were revoked and the church as the plaintiff.

“People have died as the illegal group tried to snatch the church’s possessions. In some places Orthodox faithfuls have defended the church, in other places people were killed while trying to do so,” Andualem noted.

The Lawyer said the ban that the church requested would last for three months so as to give enough time for the church to prepare formal lawsuit, given the broad nature of the abuses committed against the church and its followers.

“We explained to the court that establishing identities of the defendants have been carried out and that works have commenced but we need time until security situations allow our witnesses to come to Addis Abeba,” Andualem said.

The court after listening to explanations provided by the lawyers with regard to the church’s request adjourned the case to Wednesday afternoon, 08 February for final verdict.

On Monday the Addis Abeba Police said that “19 police leaders and officers sustained serious and light injuries” during a confrontation with a group of people who gathered at St. Lideta of the Orthodox Church, located in Philidoro, a location bordering Addis Abeba City and Oromia Regional State Special Zone Surrounding Finnfine, as tension between the Synod and government escalates.

Over the weekend, clashes lash between followers of Orthodox Christianity and the local police in West Arsi zone, Shashemene city of the Oromia Region on Saturday 04 February “claimed the lives of many people.” The clashes erupted at St. Michael Church during a reception ceremony for members clergy appointed by the new “Holy Synod of Oromia and Nations and Nationalities.

These confrontations are happening in the backdrop of tensions between the Holy Synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church (EOTC) and the government following differences over three breakaway Archbishops and 25 appointee episcopate, whom the Holy Synod accused of involving in “illegal anointment” and subsequently decided to excommunicate the group. The Holy Synod also accused the government of direct involvement in the crisis. AS

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