By BosNewsLife Africa Service
ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA (BosNewsLife)– A Christian man in southeastern Ethiopia fears for his life after a Muslim mob reportedly forced him out of his home and farm.
Fikere Mengistu’s family owned the land for more than 90 years, but Christians said some 20 Muslims want to take over the farm, located in Deder town’s Kufanzik village, to build a mosque.
Advocacy group International Christian Concern (ICC), which is assisting his family, told BosNewsLife that Muslims already “destroyed his fence and have looted his possessions”.
ICC accused local police of being compliit in these attempts to “steal” his land. Police officials have denied wrongdoing.
“Their first plan was to kill my husband,” Mengistu’s wife, Haregewoyan, said about the Muslim mob. “Now, he has escaped from the area. We are fasting and praying for God to rescue us from this forceful action,” she added in a statement distributed by ICC.
The reportedly harassment allegedly began when Mengistu built a house for his 93-year-old mother two years ago. Fearing that the village’s 38 Christians would use the house to gather for prayer, dozens of Muslims began to occupy his land and would remain for weeks at a time shouting “Allahu akhbar,” meaning “God is great”, according to Christians familiar with the case.
They reportedly destroyed his elderly mother’s home to drive the Mengistu family off their land, saying Mengistu’s land belonged to the government.
Following last year’s incident, Fikere Mengistu won legal battles to regain his land, but Muslims returned “and are attempting to take it by force”, Christians said.
“We did our best try to defend our faith based on the law of the country and with all our resources, including ICC budget, to pay for our legal expenses. Muslims are out of the control of the government and the law. What can we do?” the Mengistu family said.
Deder Police Commander Abadir Yuya reportedly said that the court decisions were not valid and needed to be reviewed. “Since then, the mob has continued harassing the Mengistu family,” ICC claimed.
“The authorities are letting it happen. In the past, he has faced threats from local police officers, has been forced to pay bribes, and has been imprisoned simply because he is a Christian,” the group added.
Christians say Muslim rioters have resumed construction of the mosque on the Mengistu property and have designated the structure as a voting precinct, placing a ballot box there for the upcoming national election, Sunday, May 24. ICC Ethiopia said the mob has employed this strategy in an attempt to legally justify continued construction.
Mengistu’s wife said she and her five children, aged mother-in-law, and 30 other Christians are praying on the property. “Please help me protect my land and secure my family and the fellow Christians.”
Officials allowing the mosque construction were publicly identified as Zone Police representative Abdi, militia leader Heder Abdi, and District Administrator Tajur Shami, who apparently ordered a militia to protect the project.
ICC told BosNewsLife that is working with the Ethiopian Lawyers Association to advocate for the Mengistu family’s property rights. “Progress has stalled until after the election because government officials remain focused on election-related issues at this time,” the group said.
The group’s Regional Manager of Africa Troy Augustine called the “continued harassment” of the Mengistu family “unacceptable”.
Augustine urged local authorities and courts uphold the Ethiopian law and the decisions of the courts “instead of bending to pressure from the religious majority or worse, participating in the persecution of Christians through illegal activities.”
The official told BosNewsLife that the officials should “be stripped of their authority if they fail to uphold the Ethiopian law and religious freedom guaranteed for all Ethiopian citizens in the constitution.”
ICC said it had urged supporters to call East Harerge Zone Administrator Asegid at +251-91-574-44-56, the Ethiopian Ministry of Justice at +251-11-554-18-68, or Ethiopian Ambassador Girma Birru in Washington at + 1 (202) 274-4570 to express “their desire for justice and protection for Mengistu and his family.”