10 November 2021, The Tablet

Orthodox priests targeted in Ethiopia conflict

Orthodox priests targeted in Ethiopia conflict

Hundreds of Orthodox priests are being killed in the ongoing conflict in Tigray and beyond.
Erberto Zani / Alamy

Eritrean troops involved in the conflict in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia are killing hundreds of Orthodox priests and raping their wives, the religious freedom charity Release International reported. 

The charity claims Ethiopian Orthodox clergy are being targeted in the fighting between Tigrayan forces and Ethiopian and Eritrean troops. 

Violence began in November 2020 after the Tigray People's Liberation Front, a former ruling party, refused to join a new political party set up by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Tigrayans and other ethnic groups are calling for greater autonomy from the Ethiopian Government. Conflict has spread from the fertile, semi-autonomous region of the country to other regions, and Amnesty International has accused “all sides” in the conflict of human rights violations.

In February, Amnesty confirmed reports of a massacre of “hundreds” of unarmed civilians carried out in late November by Eritrean forces in the Tigrayan holy city of Aksum. Release quoted Orthodox sources this week who said that among those killed there were “at least 78 priests”.

In a press statement from the charity on Monday, an Eritrean Christian and former prisoner with active connections to Christians in the region also said Eritrean troops had continued to kill many more Orthodox clergy for refusing to recognise their authority. She added that her sources told her that soldiers were also raping the priests’ wives. 

“Some of the priests stand holding their crosses, so they cut their hands. And when the soldiers ask the priests to remove their hats, when they say no, they shoot them,” Helen Berhane said. 

“Hundreds of priests are dying in this conflict at the hands of Eritrean soldiers,” added Ms Berhane, who was imprisoned from 2004 to 2006 for her membership of an Evangelical Church not recognised by Eritrea’s authoritarian Government.

She said the involvement of troops from Eritrea shows that “hostility towards Christians is overflowing from Eritrea”. 

A spokesman for the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need told The Tablet Catholic clergy in Ethiopia had told the charity of Orthodox priests there being killed. 

Several media outlets have previously reported that rape is being used as a weapon of war by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces. Mr Ahmed, an Evangelical Christian, was in 2019 awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for brokering a peace agreement with Eritrea, where the Government tightly controls religious activity. When he took office in 2018 he was praised for his efforts at interfaith reconciliation. 

In May the head of Ethiopia’s Orthodox Church, Patriarch Abune Mathias, was reported as accusing the Government of committing genocide against the country’s northern Tigray region. 

In April the G7 group of nations, which includes the UK, called for the “swift” withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Tigray. 


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