Four teenage believers, three of them minors, served a one-month jail sentence after being convicted on charges of distributing Christian literature and “inciting religious violence.” The girls were reported to be “in good health” following their release from prison on Dec. 22. Gifti, 14; Mihiret, 14; Eden, 15; and Deborah, 18, served their sentences in a large prison in Gelemiso among adult criminals.
The Christian girls ordeal began when they were arrested for distributing a Christian book in the eastern Ethiopian town of Babile, not far from Harar. The book sets out to answer questions posed by a late South African Islamic scholar about the Christian faith. Local Muslims claimed the book was an insult to Islam and, on September 19, carried out a retaliatory attack on the Protestant Meserete Kristos Church (MKC) in Babile.
Over the next two days, another church was attacked, and church leaders were threatened by a group of 20 Muslim youths who reportedly visited the house of the MKC leader with a warning to leave the area or risk losing his life and property. The four girls were subsequently arrested and charged with “inciting religious violence”.
The girls first appeared in court in Babile on Sept. 28. In Ethiopia, anyone under 18 cannot be legally tried in an adult court. Nevertheless, the judge transferred the case to an adult higher court in Harar. After repeated delays and a short release on bail, the girls were sentenced at a court in Babile on Nov. 15th to each serve one month in prison.
Although Ethiopia is not a majority Muslim country, the Harari region, close to the Somali border, has a significant Muslim presence. Ethiopia’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion but Christians who formerly adhered to Islam can face discrimination, threats and sometimes attacks. Ethiopia is ranked #22 on the 2017 World Watch List of the 50 worst countries to live as a Christian produced by Open Doors.
Thank You, Father, for the courage of these four teenage girls to boldly spread the truth, even in the face of these consequences. Thank You for protecting them as they served their prison term. We pray for them now as they recover from this ordeal and as they look toward the future. Grant them, their parents and their church leaders the courage to continue speaking the truth of the gospel to people living in spiritual darkness and the grace to speak with godly wisdom and discernment. Only You, Holy Spirit, can direct them according to Your purposes, the purposes of the triune God. Empower and protect them. In the name of Jesus, our rock and fortress, in whom we take refuge. Amen.