-Govt’s excessive use of force results in eight deaths in Shashemene
-PM Abiy, Abune Mathias agree to resolve the religious crisis
Judges at the Federal High Court of Lideta placed a temporary freezing order on the breakaway Synod, the Oromia regional government, the federal police, and the Oromia police. The entities are prohibited from entering the Ethiopian Orthodox Church premises till the next court hearing, which is adjourned to February 15, 2023.
As a result, 29 Ethiopian orthodox bishops and members of the breakaway Synod led by Abune Sawiros (PhD) and the entities are barred from entering Ethiopian Orthodox Churches under the control of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church. Two weeks ago, the breakaway Synod announced the formation of a new synod known as the “Holy Synod of Oromia and Nations and Nationalities in Ethiopia.” The new synod also overtook number of churches in the region.
The incumbent Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Abune Mathias, instantly excommunicated the new synod.
On February 3, 2023, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church (EOTC) filed a complaint against the entities, bringing the matter to court. The church requested the court to place the temporary freezing order. The court issued a temporary judgment on February 10, 2023, but could not reach a final decision because lawyers representing the breakaway synod failed to present the court with a binding letter of representation from the new synod. Yet, the breakaway remains in charge of the churches it overtook so far, until the final court verdict is reached. But the new synod cannot advance into additional churches.
However, lawyers representing the EOTC demanded the restriction, claiming that considerable harm was being done as violence flared across the country. The judicial process will continue, according to EOTC lawyers, who say the church will pursue the human rights abuses and property damages that occurred.
Conflicts have erupted between supporters of the EOTC and the new synod since the breakaway synod announced its decision two weeks ago. As followers of the EOTC bishops fight back, bishops elected by the new synod have attempted to take over churches in parts of Oromia.
The EOTC was condemned by the breakaway synod for oppressing Afan Oromo and appointing 85 percent of church leadership from one ethnic background, which the church rejected. On the other hand, the EOTC also accused Oromia’s security forces of aiding bishops of the new synod in forcibly seizing churches.
As a result, the church accused the government of meddling in church matters and violating the constitution.
The government’s disproportionate use of force during unrest at St. Michael’s church in Shashemene, Oromia, killed at least eight people and injured many more, according to a statement by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
Thirteen people were killed in Shashemene, according to the EOTC.
The Commission stated that similar conflicts and casualties occurred in Nekemte, Gimbi, Dembidollo, Shambu, Asella, Shashemene, Chiro, Yabello, Jimma, Bulehora, Negelle Borena, and other districts of Oromia regional state. The Commission also criticized the government for infringing on citizens’ constitutional and human rights, as well as their right to life and freedom of religion.
Meanwhile, the church called for a nationwide public protest on Sunday, which the government refused to acknowledge. State security personnel have also been busy as the conflict between the church and the government overshadows the African Union summit, which begins next week in Addis Ababa.
A day after EHRC Commissioner Daniel Bekele (PhD) and FDRE President Sahlework Zewde discussed the current situation on February 9, 2023, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) met with key EOTC leaders yesterday.
The church leaders, led by Abune Mathias, met with Abiy yesterday at the Office of the Prime Minister in an attempt to address the conflict that has split the church. However, neither the leaders nor delegates of the breakaway synod were present at the meeting.
Following the conclusion of the discussion, Abiy and Abune Mathias claimed that a positive consensus had been achieved between the government and the church. However, neither party disclosed any additional information on the arrangements.
The PM committed to ensuring that all churches taken by the breakaway synod be returned to the EOTC and pay compensation for the damages that occurred, according to The Reporter’s sources. The church is also given complete discretion over whether or not to participate in the large demonstration planned for Sunday.
“The breakaway synod is technically now irrelevant if the federal government sticks to the promises made by the PM,” a source close to the meeting told The Reporter.
However, the next moves will be determined by the responses of the leaders of the breakaway synod. “The PM is now burdened with persuading the breakaway synod. The new synod has strong supporters in Oromia and might stand by its firm position, which will exacerbate the situation,” the source said.