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Ethiopia: UPDATE - Prisoners' hearing due TOMORROW

09 January 2017

Tibebu Mekuria, Dawit Jemberu, and Belete Tilahun, who are falsely accused of arson, are due to have a Supreme Court hearing in Addis Ababa tomorrow. The judges have postponed the case several times, citing a lack of time to review the files. Please join us in praying that the hearing will finally take place, and that justice will be done.

Please pray:

  • That those who keep making decisions to delay the hearing of Tibebu, Dawit and Belete would have compassion on them and finally grant them a fair hearing
  • For justice to be done
  • For spiritual strength for Tibebu, Dawit and Belete and their families.


UPDATE - Prisoners' hearing futher delayed

11 October 2016

After various delays over the summer, Tibebu Mekuria, Dawit Jemberu, and Belete Tilahun, who are falsely accused of arson, are still awaiting their hearing. On 10 October the judge told the three Christians he had no time to look at the files and would hear their case at a later date.

The three men are accused of burning down a church building on 16 May 2014, and were arrested a month later. They have now been in prison for over two years. Please continue to uphold them in prayer.

Please pray:

  • That those who keep making decisions to delay the hearing of Tibebu, Dawit and Belete would have compassion on them and finally grant them a fair hearing
  • For justice to be done
  • For spiritual strength for our brothers and their families.


UPDATE - Prisoners' hearing delayed AGAIN

30 June 2016

The Federal Supreme Court in Addis Ababa has once again postponed the hearing of imprisoned believers Tibebu Mekuria, Dawit Jemberu, and Belete Tilahun, who are falsely accused of arson.

The court claimed that they didn't have enough time to look at the files and needed more time. This is now the sixth time the hearing has been delayed.

Initially the judge wanted to postpone the hearing until October, but the lawyer pleaded against it, explaining that Tibebu, Dawit, and Belete are suffering a lot in jail and that their appeal process has now been dragged out for almost a year. The judge accepted the lawyer's plea and shortened the date to 27 July.

The three men who remain in prison in Debiremarkos. They were disappointed by the additional postponement, but expressed their trust in God. Please continue to be in prayer for them.

Please pray:

  1. That the hearing in July would not be delayed
  2. For justice to be done
  3. For spiritual strength for our brothers and their families
  4. For comfort, particularly for Belete as he mourns the recent death of his father.

UPDATE - Imprisoned believers' hearing TODAY

29 June 2016

Imprisoned believers Tibebu Mekuria, Dawit Jemberu, and Belete Tilahun, will appear in an Addis Ababa court again today. They are falsely accused of arson.

In May, Belete's father died of an unknown illness.

Our contacts have told us: "Belete Tilahun has lost his father, an incident which was traumatising for him in jail. Belete's father Tilahun was deeply saddened to see his son sentenced to 9 years back in 2015. He was depressed after attending hearing after hearing at the courts in Debiremarkos.

"Once, when the judge at the higher court upheld the ruling by the lower court, he was heard saying, 'May the God of truth vindicate your name', with deep frustration. A devoted EOC follower, Tilahun was not convinced about the accusations against his son.

"For Belete it has always been very concerning to see his father tirelessly attending all the hearings at such old ages. After first receiving the news of his father's death, Belete was shocked and spiritually bruised, unable to accept the death of his father. But later on he was able to accept the reality and commit everything into the hands of the Lord."

Please pray:

  1. For justice to be done
  2. For spiritual strength for our brothers and their families
  3. For comfort, particularly for Belete.

UPDATE - Imprisoned believers' hearing delayed again

11 May 2016

The final hearing of the case against Tibebu Mekuria, Dawit Jemberu, and Belete Tilahun has been delayed yet again.

After being delayed multiple times, a hearing that was meant to take place on 6 May has been postponed until 29 June.

"The judges claimed they did not have enough time to review the case," a contact told us.

The three men are accused of burning down a church building on 16 May 2014, and were arrested a month later.

Please continue to uphold these men, their families and their case in your prayers.

Please pray:

  1. For our brothers to remain strong in the faith
  2. For comfort and encouragement for the families of Tibebu, Dawit and Belete
  3. That justice would be done and that this case would finally be concluded.

UPDATE - Imprisoned believers' hearing delayed further

28 October 2015

Three believers who have been found guilty of arson have had the verdict on their appeal further delayed after a hearing on 23 October.

Judges asked for more files from the lower courts in order to gain a full understanding of the proceedings up until now. This is the second time the judges have asked for these files, but those responsible for supplying the documents have failed to present them. The next hearing is scheduled for 23 December.

Until then, the three men, Tibebu, Dawit and Belete, continue to face harsh conditions in the Debiremarkos prison, notorious as a place where those opposed to the prior communist era government were tortured and killed.

Property confiscated

Another lawsuit against the men to claim compensation for the damages to the burnt-down building was allowed by the court in Debiromarkos on 3 July, despite the fact that the case against them has not been concluded. The Debiremarkos court ruled that the three men must pay for damages to the value of more than 1.2 million Ethiopian birr (over £35,000).

The prosecution can now file for immediate enforcement of this ruling. While Tibebu and Dawit are both single and have no property that can be confiscated to ensure payment, Belete, who is married and a father of three, risks losing the property he owns.

"I am worried that my family will be thrown out onto the streets," he told a visitor who wishes to remain anonymous. "They want to destroy my life and the property I have laboured for all my life."

'Maybe this is why God wants us here'

Despite their circumstances, the men remain steadfast in their faith and are continuing to evangelise inside the prison. They have been very encouraged to see some inmates coming to faith in Jesus. In addition to the recent conversion of a hardened criminal, a staunchly traditional man has also accepted Christ and asked for a Bible. The three men gave him the only Bible they had with them. "Maybe this is why God wants us here," they said.

Tibebu and Dawit seem resigned to their fate. They expect to serve the next nine years in prison, and have asked for support in starting theological studies.

"They have been very encouraged to hear that people around the world know what is happening to them and have been praying that the Ethiopian government would ensure justice for them, praying that it would keep with its constitution which guarantees a fair trial for all its citizens and equal treatment under the law no matter their creed," said one contact.

Please pray:

  1. For our brothers to remain strong in the faith
  2. That God would continue to work through them to bring many to Him
  3. For comfort and encouragement for the families of Tibebu, Dawit and Belete
  4. That justice would be done as this case is concluded.

UPDATE - Imprisoned believers' hearing delayed

14 July 2015

On 8 July three believers who have been falsely accused of arson appeared in the Supreme Court in Addis Ababa, expecting the judge to give his final ruling on their case. However, the judge postponed the hearing to 23 October, saying that the judges 'didn't have enough availability to look at the case'.

"This is the continuation of the agony being felt by [Tibebu, Dawit and Belete] and their families," said one Open Doors source.

If you would like to speak up on behalf of Tibebu, Dawit and Belete, please email advocacy@opendoorsuk.org and we will provide you with more information.

Please pray:

  1. That Tibebu, Dawit and Belete will continue to put their trust in the Lord and experience His encouragement
  2. That they would continue to use their testimony to reach many
  3. For comfort and provision for their families.

Falsely imprisoned believers bring murderer to Christ

16 June 2015

Three evangelical Christians have been falsely accused of burning down the Ethiopian Orthodox Church building in Gulema Iyesus. Witnesses testified that the men were nowhere near the church when it burned down, but a judge has found the men guilty based on the inconsistent testimony of one prosecution witness. They have a final chance to appeal to the Federal Supreme Court in Addis Ababa on 8 July.

The church building was burned down on 16 May 2014. About a month later officials arrested Tibebu Mekuria and Dawit Jemberu on charges of starting the fire, and Belete Tilahun on charges of providing funds for the attack. All three have denied the charges.

Local Christians have told Open Doors that the wood and mud structure could have easily burned down accidentally, for example, if a priest did not properly snuff out one of the candles they commonly use as part of the church liturgy. However, they suspect someone deliberately set fire to the church in an effort to bring trouble to the evangelical believers.

The three men, Tibebu Mekuria, Dawit Jemberu and Belete Tilahun face up to nine years in prison each. Sources in Ethiopia who remain anonymous for security reasons have told Open Doors that they fear the outcome of the hearing on 8 July, as they suspect that the action against the believers is an effort by government officials in the area to appease influential conservative elements within the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC). "The officials might not risk offending these conservative elements," the source said.

If you would like to speak up on behalf of Tibebu, Dawit and Belete, please email advocacy@opendoorsuk.org and we will provide you with more information.

Why would the EOC attack evangelical believers?

The EOC is one of the oldest churches in Africa, dating back to the fourth century. Throughout the history of Ethiopia the EOC was the only church to enjoy state religion status. At the start of the Communist era in 1974, church and state were separated and the EOC lost its state religion status.

However, the church continues to enjoy unofficial state religion status and retains a powerful voice in all state and religious affairs. Mahibere Kidusan is a conservative movement within the church that has been posing a growing threat to non-traditional Protestants. The group allegedly wants to control government policies to restrict the activities of other religions.

Ethiopia's Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegne, belongs to the Apostolic Church of Ethiopia. Because he does not belong to the EOC, he has been accused of benefitting evangelicals, which has led to increasing pressure on them.

"On the day of the first verdict and sentencing, some of government offices closed in order that employees could attend the court proceedings. Local Christians see this as an effort by government officials to show members of Mahibere Kidusan that they are taking this matter seriously," the local source explained.

Court proceedings

The men have faced months of court proceedings. During the first hearing on 9 October witnesses for the defence testified that they were nowhere near the church at the time that it burned down. Their defence also pointed out inconsistencies in the testimony of the prosecutor's witness.

The judge asked for more time to go through evidence during a 20 October hearing, but on 28 October he found all three guilty. He based his verdict on the inconsistent testimony of the single prosecution witness, and rejected the testimonies of the defence witnesses. He sentenced Tibebu and Dawit to 9 years and Belete to 8 years in prison. They have appealed twice, but both appeals have been rejected.

Arrested beleivers bring murderer to Christ

Tibebu and Dawit are both single, but Belete is married and has a son and two daughters between the ages of three and 19. His family has struggled financially without his support.

While the three men seem to have lost weight during their imprisonment, they are strong in the faith and thankful for the prayer and support of believers around the world.

They are continuing their ministry inside the prison and have recently seen a hardened criminal commit his life to Christ. The man is serving a life sentence for murder and robbery. "In the prison most of the time he isolated himself and no one was courageous enough to approach him. But the three believers decided to reach out to him, which greatly surprised him. He agreed to hear them out and eventually decided to follow Christ. The so-called 'iron-faced murderer' has now become a man of 'sharing and love'," reports our source.

"We don't know why we are here," one of the inmates told our source. "But, it is true that God has His own purpose and plan to let us be here. We thank you for your prayers and concern. Please ask partners and supporters to continue praying for us."

If you would like to speak up on behalf of Tibebu, Dawit and Belete, please email advocacy@opendoorsuk.org and we will provide you with more information.

Please pray:

  • That justice will be done for the three believers Tibebu, Dawit and Belete
  • Thank the Lord for the work of ministry that is continuing despite the difficulties the men are facing
  • For comfort and provision for the families of the prisoners.

More News from Ethiopia:

Find out more about persecution in Ethiopia.