News: Govt, Orthodox Synod in heightened war of words; Synod goes ahead with planned rally despite warning by joint task force

His Holiness Abune Abraha, General Manager of the Holy Synod reading the statement earlier this evening. Picture: Mahibere Kidusan

Addis Abeba – In a sign of deepening fracture between the government and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church (EOTC) Holy Synod in Addis Abeba, both have released statements this afternoon in which the former claimed possession of intelligence on a group that wants to seize the the church’s schism as an “opportunity to shake the government with armed violence”, and which “has started recruiting young people” for that purpose.

The Holy Synod in its latest statement said that regardless of yesterday’s statement given by the Joint Security and Intelligence Task Force banning unauthorized rallies, its plan to conduct nationwide demonstrations will go ahead as scheduled. The Synod said the ban on the rallies by the Joint Task Force makes it “firmly believe” that the government is not solving the problem, but shows it was rather a “declaration to destroy the church once and for all.”

“the issue has crossed the red line, and there is no such thing as a Martyrdom march”


Furthermore, it said that holding peaceful demonstration is a fundamental in international human rights and “is clearly stipulated in Article 30 of the [Ethiopian] constitution. The government should respect and enforce the constitution itself.” The Synod added that it will expand “the horizons of its planned and announced national and international peaceful demonstration on 12 February without interference from anyone. While informing that it will be held in its own square, the government’s role is to fulfill its governmental responsibility properly so that the procession ends peacefully.”

The statement by the Synod was released shortly before the one by the government communication services was released and said that the breakaway archbishops with whom the Synod is at loggerhead are “being supported by extremist politicians and followers of other faiths.”

“The honor and institutional superiority of the church has been violated in this short period of time,” the Synod said explaining in details what it said was government supported take over of the church’s possessions by the group the Synod excommunicated and condemned for violating the church’s canonical principles.

The government on its part said that it has “discovered that a group composed of business people, politicians and ‘Spiritual youth associations’ has been organized from the center to the bottom and is organizing a rally called ‘Sacrifices of the Martyrs Rally’.” The statement further accused the group of wanting “to take the opportunity to shake the government with armed violence.”. It also claimed of having intelligence that the group has “started recruiting young people, collecting money for its purpose in various ways and illegally,” adding that the “government has confirmed” that the group is creating avenues of “relationship with the armed forces.”

“It has been confirmed that the media group, which has been planned and organized for this evil purpose, has started its work,” the statement from the government says.

“The honor and institutional superiority of the church has been violated in this short period of time”

Holy Synod

“In this monitoring process, rioters with different devices have been caught while on deployment. Groups have also been seen using church bells for inappropriate purposes to cause violence. They have been found in every area recruiting and deploying youths for conflict. Forces trying to pursue their political goals under the guise of religion have been arrested. It is also known that there are invisible hands who want to destroy the reputation of the government by violating the rights of people and religious institutions by using the responsibility given to them.”

The tensions between the Holy Synod in Addis Abeba and the government have reached heightened levels following differences over the three breakaway Archbishops and their 25 appointee episcopate. After Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed weighed in with a call for dialogue and remarked on the schism saying that it was “possible to resolve it without suppressing people’s right and demand to use one’s own language.”

The Holy Synod slammed the PM’s remarks, and accused the government of direct involvement in the crisis.

Two days ultimatum and a red line crossed

In today’s statement, the Synod said that “the walls of the church were stormed by armed forces and government security forces. Popes and fathers were expelled from their dioceses where they lived for many years without any legal basis by security structures. Their freedom of movement was restricted and they were sent back to Addis Abeba in exile. They were also banned from returning to their dioceses.”

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.”

Today, the Synod said that it has received information that so far, “more than 30 members of our church, including priests and ministers, have accepted martyrdom for their religion in the hope that the walls will not be breached and the church will not be defiled by condemned individuals. A large number of her children are also being treated for serious and minor injuries.”

On Monday, 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.

The Synod warned if the government “continues to violate the law and humiliate the dignity and honor of the church in the same way, the church will expand the scope of its completely peaceful movement in order to uphold its rights based on the law that the government has violated.”

It also warned that the government should come out of its stubbornness stop “publicly cooperating with the illegal individuals” and to end “the violation of the law within the next two days, including today; to uphold law and order, as well as to vacate the papacy and local churches they invaded by force and hand over the legal structure to the church.” The Synod also puts the government on notice to release “the priests and parishioners who have been illegally detained” and ” to publicly apologize for the abuse it committed against the church. Furthermore, it strongly demanded the government “to pay proper compensation for the death and injuries of the priests and the faithful and to repair the destroyed properties.”

The government on its part said, “the issue has crossed the red line,” and there is no such thing as a “Martyrdom march.” It also said that security forces will begin engaging “in strong law enforcement in order to create national stability and ensure the safety of citizens.” AS

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