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Eritrea

Executive Summary

The law and unimplemented constitution prohibit religiously motivated discrimination and provide for freedom of thought, conscience, and belief, as well as the freedom to practice any religion.  The government recognizes four officially registered religious groups:  the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Sunni Islam, the Catholic Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Eritrea.  Unregistered groups lack the privileges of registered groups; their members have been arrested and mistreated and their eventual release from detention has sometimes been conditioned on a formal renunciation of their faith.  Some unregistered groups are allowed to operate, and the government tolerates their worship activities.  International nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and international media continued to report that members of all religious groups were, to varying degrees, subjected to government abuses and restrictions.  During the year, the government both arrested and released individuals imprisoned on the basis of religion.  According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), officials released 70 individuals imprisoned on the basis of religion in the first two months of the year:  six on January 27, and 64 on February 1.  On April 5, the Christian NGO Release International reported two new sets of arrests, one set of 23 persons in Asmara and the other of 12 persons in Assab.  On April 12, the BBC reported that 36 Christians were released on bail, including 22 from the previous group in Asmara reported by Release International and 14 who had been in prison on the Dahlak Islands for four years.  According to Christian Today’s September reporting, authorities arrested 15 Christians, all of whom had previously been imprisoned for their religion.  NGOs estimated authorities continued to detain from 130 to more than 1,000 people due to their faith.  Authorities reportedly continued to detain 24 Jehovah’s Witnesses for refusing to participate in military service or renounce their faith.  At least 20 Muslim protesters reportedly remained in detention following protests in Asmara in October 2017 and March 2018.  Authorities continued to confine former Eritrean Orthodox Church Patriarch Abune Antonios to house arrest, where he has remained since 2006.  The government continued to deny citizenship to Jehovah’s Witnesses after stripping them of citizenship in 1994 for refusing to participate in the referendum that created the independent state of Eritrea.

While the government’s lack of transparency and intimidation of civil society and religious communities created difficulties for individuals who wanted to obtain information on the status of societal respect for religious freedom, religious tolerance appeared to international observers to be widespread within society.  Churches and mosques are located in close proximity to each other, and most citizens congratulated members of other religious groups on the occasions of religious holidays and other events.  There were no reports of sectarian violence, and most towns and ethnic groups included members from all the major religious groups.

U.S. officials in Asmara and Washington raised religious freedom concerns with government officials throughout the year, including the imprisonment of Jehovah’s Witnesses, lack of alternative service for conscientious objectors, and the continued detention of Patriarch Antonios.  Embassy officials further discussed religious freedom on a regular basis with a wide range of individuals, including members of the diplomatic corps based in Asmara, in other countries in the region, and UN officials.  Embassy officials used social media and outreach programs to engage the public and highlight the commitment of the United States to religious freedom and rebut the government’s argument that it does not persecute people based on their religious beliefs.

Since 2004, Eritrea has been designated a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.  On November 15, 2021, the Secretary of State redesignated Eritrea as a CPC and identified the following sanction that accompanied the designation:  the ongoing denial of licenses or other approvals for exports or imports of defense articles and services as referenced in 22 CFR 126.1(n) pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The law and unimplemented constitution prohibit religious discrimination and provide for freedom of thought, conscience, and belief and the freedom to practice any religion.

Proclamation 73/1995, which serves as the guiding law on religious issues, calls for separation of religion and state; outlines the parameters to which religious organizations must adhere, including concerning foreign relations and social activities; establishes an Office of Religious Affairs; and requires religious groups to register with the government or cease activities.  Some members of religious groups that are unregistered or otherwise not in compliance with the law reportedly continue to be subject to the former provisional penal code, which sets penalties for failure to register and noncompliance.  A new penal code was promulgated in 2015 that does not directly address penalties for religious groups that fail to register or otherwise comply with the law, but it includes a punishment for “unlawful assembly” of between one and six months’ imprisonment and a fine of 5,001 to 20,000 nakfa ($330-$1,300); however, the new code has not yet been implemented.

The Office of Religious Affairs has authority to regulate religious activities and institutions, including approval of the applications of religious groups seeking official registration.  Each application must include a description of the group’s history in the country; an explanation of the uniqueness or benefit the group offers compared with other registered religious groups; names and personal information of the group’s leaders; detailed information on assets; a description of the group’s conformity to local culture; and a declaration of all foreign sources of funding.

The Office of Religious Affairs has registered four religious groups:  the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Sunni Islam, the Catholic Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Eritrea (affiliated with the Lutheran World Federation).  While Baha’is are not one of the four officially recognized religions, they have registered every year since 1959, the year the chapter was established, and have “de facto” recognition from the government.  A synagogue exists in Asmara, but there are not enough adherents for regular services.  A 2002 decree requires all other religious groups to submit registration applications and to cease religious activities and services prior to approval.

Religious groups must obtain government approval to build facilities for worship.

While the law does not specifically address religious education in public schools, Proclamation 73/1995 outlines the parameters to which religious organizations must adhere, and education is not included as an approved activity.

By law, all citizens between ages 18 and 50 must perform 18 months of national service, with limited exceptions, including for health reasons such as physical disability or pregnancy.  In times of emergency, the length of national service may be extended indefinitely, and the country officially has been in a state of emergency since the beginning of the 1998 war with Ethiopia.  There is also a compulsory militia for all men not in the military, including many who had been demobilized from National Service, otherwise exempted from military service in the past, or are elderly.  Failure to participate in the militia or national service may result in detention.  Militia duties mostly involve security-related activities, such as airport or neighborhood patrolling, and agricultural work.  Militia training primarily involves occasional marches and listening to patriotic lectures.  The law does not provide for conscientious objector status for religious reasons, nor are there alternative activities for persons willing to perform national service but unwilling to engage in military or militia activities.

The law prohibits any involvement in politics by religious groups.

The government requires all citizens to obtain an exit visa prior to departing the country.  The application requests the applicant’s religious affiliation, but the law does not require that information.

The law limits foreign financing for religious groups, including registered groups.  The only contributions legally allowed are from local followers, the government, or government-approved foreign sources.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

During the year, the government both arrested and released individuals imprisoned on the basis of religion.  According to CSW, officials released 70 Christian prisoners in the first two months of the year, six on January 27, and 64 on February 1.  On April 5, Release International reported two new sets of arrests, one set of 23 persons in Asmara and the other of 12 persons in Assab.  On April 12, the BBC reported that 36 Christians were released on bail, including 22 from the previous group in Asmara reported by Release International and 14 who had been in prison on the Dahlak Islands for four years.  According to Christian Today’s September reporting, authorities arrested 15 Christians, all of whom had previously been imprisoned for their religion.

NGOs estimated authorities continued to detain from 130 to more than 1,000 people due to their faith.  Determining more precisely the number of persons imprisoned for their religious beliefs was difficult due to lack of government transparency and the reported intimidation of those who might come forward with such information.

Authorities reportedly continued to detain 24 Jehovah’s Witnesses, more than half of whom had been in prison for more than 20 years, for refusing to participate in military service or renounce their faith.  At least 20 Muslim protesters reportedly remained in detention following protests in Asmara in October 2017 and March 2018.

Eritrean Orthodox Church Patriarch Abune Antonios, who last appeared in public in July 2017, has remained under house detention since 2006 for protesting government interference in Church affairs.

The government continued to single out Jehovah’s Witnesses for particularly harsh treatment because of their blanket refusal to vote in the 1993 referendum on the country’s independence and subsequent refusal to participate in mandatory national service, for which the government stripped them of their citizenship in 1994.  The government continued to detain Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religious prisoners for failure to follow the law or for national security reasons and continued to deny them citizenship.  Authorities’ treatment of religious prisoners appeared to have been inconsistent.  In some prisons, religious prisoners reportedly were not allowed to have visitors, but in others, visitors were allowed.  Some former prisoners held for their religious beliefs continued to report harsh detention conditions, including solitary confinement, physical abuse, and inadequate food, water, and shelter.  Other former religious prisoners reported acceptable conditions, adequate food, and no physical abuse.

Government authorization remained necessary for any organization to print and distribute documents; for religious groups, that authorization needed to come from the Office of Religious Affairs, which continued to approve requests only from the four officially registered religious groups.

The government continued to impose restrictions on proselytizing, accepting external funding from international NGOs and international organizations, and groups selecting their own religious leaders.  Unregistered religious groups also faced restrictions in gathering for worship, constructing places of worship, and teaching their religious beliefs to others, although they reported that in many cases the government unofficially allowed them to worship in private homes as long as it was done discreetly.

The government, which has not approved the registration of additional religious groups since 2002, again approved no new religious groups during the year.  Unrecognized religious groups expressed fear that applying would open them to further repression.

Jehovah’s Witnesses were largely unable to obtain official identification documents, which left many of them unable to study in government institutions and barred them from most forms of employment, government benefits, access to bank accounts, and travel.

Arrests and releases often went unreported.  Information from outside the capital was extremely limited.  Independent observers stated many persons remained imprisoned without charge.

The government continued to detain without due process persons associated with unregistered religious groups, occasionally for long periods, and sometimes on the grounds of threatening national security, according to minority religious group members and international NGOs.  Their eventual release from detention was sometimes conditioned on a formal renunciation of their faith.

Religious observers continued to report the government denied many exit visa applications for individuals seeking to travel to international religious conferences.  According to a 2019 report by the European Asylum Support Office, the issuance of exit visas was inconsistent and did not adhere to any consistent policy; members of unrecognized religious communities could be denied exit visas solely on the basis of their religious affiliation.

The government continued to ban all other practices of Islam other than Sunni Islam.

Official attitudes differed toward members of unregistered religious groups worshipping in homes or rented facilities.  Some local authorities reportedly tolerated the presence and activities of unregistered groups, while others attempted to prevent them from meeting.  Local authorities sometimes denied government ration coupons to Jehovah’s Witnesses and members of Pentecostal groups.  Some religious prisoners reported they were allowed to worship together in prison as long as they did so quietly.

Diaspora groups reported authorities controlled directly or indirectly virtually all activities of the four formally recognized groups.  The leaders of the four groups continued to say that their officially registered members did not face impediments to religious practice.  Individuals also reported restrictions on clergy meeting with foreign diplomats.

The government announced plans to continue its confiscation and nationalization of Catholic schools, begun in 2018.  In June, it announced the scheduled closure of the remaining early childhood and intermediate primary schools, prompting the Eritrean Catholic Bishops collective to issue a letter denouncing the action, as “…explicitly detrimental to the most elementary principles of justice….”  As of year’s end, the schools remained open, according to Catholic sources.

Most places of worship unaffiliated with the four officially registered religious groups remained closed to worship, but many of those buildings remained physically intact and undamaged.  Religious structures formerly used by the Jewish and Greek Orthodox communities in Asmara have been preserved.  The government protected the historic synagogue, which was maintained by the last Jew known to be remaining in the country.  The Greek Orthodox Church remained open as a cultural building, and as there is no longer a Greek Orthodox community; members of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church sometimes held religious services on the site.  Other structures belonging to unregistered groups, such as the Church of Christ, remained shuttered.  The government allowed the Baha’i center in Asmara to remain open, and the members of the center had unrestricted access to the building.  A Baha’i temple outside of Asmara was allowed to operate.  There were indications other unregistered groups, including Seventh-day Adventists and the Faith Mission Church, operated to some degree.  The Anglican Church building held services, but only under the auspices of the registered Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Some church leaders continued to state that the government’s restriction on foreign financing reduced church income and religious participation by preventing churches from training clergy or building or maintaining facilities.

Government control of all mass media, as well as a fear of imprisonment or other government actions, continued to restrict the ability of unregistered religious group members to bring attention to government actions against them, according to observers.  Restrictions on public assembly and freedom of speech severely limited the ability of unregistered religious groups to assemble and conduct worship in a designated place of worship, according to group members.

Observers noted that the government exerted significant direct and indirect influence over the appointment of heads of recognized religious communities, including the Eritrean Orthodox Church and the Sunni Islamic community; some international NGOs said that authorities directly controlled the appointments.  The government denied this, stating these decisions were made entirely by religious communities.  The sole political party, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, led by President Isaias Afwerki, de facto appointed both the head of the Sunni Islamic community and the head of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, as well as some lower-level officials for both communities.  On May 12, the Synod of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church elected the fifth patriarch, Abune Qerlos, six years after the death of the fourth patriarch, Abune Dioskoros, (and 15 years after the arrest of third Patriarch Abune Antonios, still seen as the rightful patriarch by many followers).  On July 10, Acting Mufti Sheikh Salim Ibrahim al-Muktar was elected Mufti of Eritrea, a position left vacant since 2017.

While the overwhelming majority of high-level officials, both military and civilian, were Christian, four ministers in the 17-member cabinet, the Asmara mayor, and at least one senior military leader, were Muslims.

The government said its official party doctrine promoted national citizenship above religious sectarianism and stated that it did not officially prefer any religion.  Programs in support of this doctrine included National Service and required attendance for all 12th graders at Warsay Yikealo Secondary School at Sawa (co-located with a defense training center) where students from across the country study and receive military training.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

While government control of all media and public discourse limited information available concerning societal actions affecting religious freedom, religious tolerance appeared to international observers to be widespread within society.  Churches and mosques are located in close proximity to each other, and most citizens congratulated members of other religious groups on the occasions of religious holidays and other events.  There were no reports of sectarian violence, and most towns and ethnic groups included members from all of the major religious groups.

Some Christian leaders continued to report Muslim leaders and communities were willing to collaborate on community projects.  Ecumenical and interreligious committees did not exist, although local leaders met informally.  Some shrines were venerated by both Orthodox and Muslim believers.  Some Muslims expressed privately their feelings of stress and scrutiny in professional and educational settings because of their religion.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy representatives met with government officials to raise religious freedom concerns, including seeking ways to accommodate unregistered groups.  They also advocated for the release of Jehovah’s Witnesses, including the remaining 24 still in prison, and for an alternative service option for conscientious objectors refusing to bear arms for religious reasons, and they expressed concern over the continued detention of Patriarch Abune Antonios.  Officials in Washington shared similar concerns with officials at the Eritrean embassy.  Embassy officials raised issues of religious freedom with a wide range of partners, including visiting international delegations, Asmara-based and regionally based diplomats accredited to the government, UN officials, and other international organization representatives.  They used social media to highlight the importance of religious tolerance and employed public diplomacy programs to engage the public and highlight the commitment of the United States to religious freedom and to rebut government statements denying persecution, such as an embassy Facebook post on September 16 highlighting the recent arrest of Christians at the same time the government claimed it supported a “culture of tolerance.”

Since 2004, Eritrea has been designated as a CPC under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, section 402(b), for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.  On November 15, 2021, the Secretary of State redesignated Eritrea as a CPC and identified the following sanction that accompanied the designation:  the ongoing denial of licenses or other approvals for exports or imports of defense articles and services as referenced in 22 CFR 126.1(n) pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act.

Ethiopia

Executive Summary

The constitution requires the separation of religion and the state, establishes freedom of religious choice and practice, prohibits religious discrimination, and stipulates the government shall not interfere in the practice of any religion, nor shall any religion interfere in the affairs of the state.  The conflict that erupted in northern Ethiopia in November 2020 spread to other regions during the year and victims of violence included religious figures.  According to media, at least 78 priests were killed in Tigray during the first five months of the year by soldiers from the national army and Eritrean troops.  The Telegraph reported the killings based on a church letter to the Synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) that said “priests, deacons, choristers and monks” had been “massacred” over a period of five months.  In April, according to media, EOTC Co-Patriarch Abune Mathias accused the government of genocide in Tigray.  On February 25, the Belgium-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Europe External Programme with Africa reported that one monk was killed during the bombing and looting of Debre Damo Monastery in January in Tigray.  Reportedly, Eritrean troops aligned with the Ethiopian National Defense Forces committed the attack.  According to media, on May 9, security forces violently shut down iftar celebrations at Meskel Square in Addis Ababa during Ramadan and turned away thousands of attendees.  Numerous individuals stated the shutdown was religiously motivated, as some members of the EOTC said Meskel Square was EOTC’s traditional property.  City officials, however, stated the shutdown was due to safety concerns.  According to media, in July, police officers raided a cathedral in Addis Ababa, interrupting prayers and forcing a dozen ethnic Tigrayan priests and monks into a pickup truck; they were released several weeks later.  On January 5, the BBC reported the government agreed to repair the al-Nejashi Mosque that was damaged in 2020 during the conflict in Tigray.  The government said a nearby church would also be repaired.

In October, the Amhara Region Islamic Affairs Supreme Council said the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) had demolished a historic mosque in Zarema town, North Gondar, Amhara Region.  Some human rights groups stated that societal violence was on the rise, especially in the context of the ongoing conflict in the northern part of the country.  Because ethnicity and religion are often closely linked, and because criminality also played a role, according to knowledgeable observers, it was difficult to characterize many incidents of societal violence as solely based on religious identity.  On March 5, according to the Addis Standard, members of the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) killed 29 individuals in Abo Church in Debos Kebele, East Wollega, Oromia Region.  Witnesses said victims were marking the beginning of the EOTC’s two-month period of fasting.  Reports stated members of the OLA stormed into the church, immediately killed the church administrator, took the rest of the victims to a nearby forest and killed them.

U.S embassy officials met with senior religious leaders to advocate peaceful resolution to the conflict in Tigray.  The Ambassador met with the Co-Patriarch of the EOTC following a viral video in which the Co-Patriarch warned of genocide against the Tigrayan people.  The embassy provided funding to faith-based organizations, including the Inter-Religious Council of Ethiopia (IRCE), to implement community projects aimed at long-term peacebuilding and religious tolerance, among other goals.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution requires the separation of state and religion, establishes freedom of religious choice and practice, prohibits religious discrimination, and stipulates the government shall not interfere in the practice of any religion, nor shall religion interfere in state affairs.  It permits limitations on religious freedom as prescribed by law to protect public safety, education, and morals as well as to guarantee the independence of government from religion.  The law criminalizes religious defamation and incitement of one religious group against another.

The law permits sharia courts to adjudicate personal status cases, provided both parties are Muslim and consent to the court’s jurisdiction.

Registration and licensing of religious groups fall under the mandate of the Directorate of Faith and Religious Affairs of the Ministry of Peace, which requires unregistered religious groups to submit a founding document, the national identity cards of its founders, and the permanent address of the religious institution and planned regional branches.  The registration process also requires an application letter, information on board members, meeting minutes, information on the founders, financial reports, offices, name, and symbols.  Religious group applicants must have at least 50 individuals for registration as a religious entity and 15 for registration as a ministry or association; the rights and privileges are the same for each category.  During the registration process, the government publishes the religious group’s name and logo in a local newspaper.  If there are no objections, registration is granted.  Unlike other religious groups, the EOTC is not registered by the Ministry of Peace but obtains registration through a provision in the civil code passed during the imperial era that is still in force.  Registration with the ministry confers legal status on a religious group, which gives the group the right to congregate and to obtain land to build a place of worship and establish a cemetery.  Unregistered groups do not receive these benefits.  Religious groups must renew their registration at least once every five years; failure to do so may result in a fine.

Registered religious organizations are required to provide annual activity and financial reports.  Activity reports must describe proselytizing activities and list new members, newly ordained clergy, and new houses of worship.

Under the constitution, the government owns all land; religious groups must apply to both the regional and local governments for land allocation, including for land to build places of worship.

Government policy prohibits the holding of religious services inside public institutions, per the constitutionally required separation of religion and state.  The government mandates that public institutions take a two-hour break from work on Fridays to allow Muslim workers to attend Islamic prayers.  Private companies are not required to follow this policy.

The constitution prohibits religious instruction in public and private schools, although both public and private schools may organize clubs based on shared religious values.  The law permits the establishment of a separate category of religious schools under the auspices of churches and mosques.  The Charities and Societies Agency, a government body accountable to the federal attorney general, and the Ministry of Education regulate religious schools, which provide both secular and religious instruction.  The Ministry of Education oversees the secular component of education provided by religious schools.

The law prohibits the formation of political parties based on religion.

The law allows all civil society organizations and religious groups to engage in advocacy and lobbying activities and to collect and obtain funding from any legal source.

Religious groups undertaking development activities are required to register their development arms as charities with the Charities and Societies Agency and to follow legal guidelines originating from the Charities and Societies Proclamation.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

The conflict that erupted in northern Ethiopia in November 2020 spread to other regions during the year and victims of violence included religious figures.  According to media, at least 78 priests were reportedly killed in Tigray during the first five months of the year by soldiers from the national army and Eritrean troops.  The Telegraph reported the killings based on a church letter to the Synod of the EOTC that said “priests, deacons, choristers and monks” had been “massacred” over a period of five months.

In April, according to media, Co-Patriarch Mathias, an ethnic Tigrayan, accused the government of genocide in Tigray.  In a video shot the previous month on a mobile phone and taken out of the country, the Co-Patriarch addressed the Church’s millions of followers and the international community, saying his previous attempts to speak out were blocked.  “I am not clear why they want to declare genocide on the people of Tigray,” the Co-Patriarch said, speaking in Amharic.  “They want to destroy the people of Tigray,” he added, listing alleged atrocities including massacres and forced starvation as well as the destruction of churches and looting.

On February 25, the Europe External Programme with Africa reported that one monk was killed during the bombing and looting of Debre Damo Monastery in Tigray in January.  Reportedly, Eritrean troops aligned with the Ethiopian National Defense Forces were responsible for the attack.  The Times reported other buildings had been completely destroyed, including monks’ ancient dwellings.  Many reporters cited ethnic grievance as the basis of the attack and said there was no evidence the attack was religiously motivated.

On May 9, according to the Addis Standard, government security forces dispersed thousands of Muslims from Meskel Square where the Muslim community in Addis Ababa had organized a Grand Iftar event during Ramadan.  In response to videos and photos showing security forces firing teargas at the crowds, Muslim activists and clerics on social media decried the government’s actions as religiously motivated.  Some members of the EOTC said Meskel Square was the EOTC’s traditional property.  City officials, however, said the violent dispersal was due to safety concerns arising from the unexpectedly large number of attendees and ongoing construction in Meskel Square.  City officials consequently canceled the event and rescheduled it for May 11.  According to the Ethiopian News Agency (ENA), the rescheduled event was held peacefully.  ENA also reported that the purposes of the event included demonstrating that Ramadan was a time of compassion, sharing, and supporting one another in line with Islamic teachings and praying for the unity of the country.  Despite the delay, event organizers thanked city administrators for allowing the event to take place.  Mayor of Addis Ababa Adanech Abiebie stated that the square belonged to all citizens – not just Christians – and called for Ethiopians to unite and celebrate religious differences.

In June, police accused a preacher from the Mahibere Kidusan – an EOTC congregation – of supporting the TPLF, which parliament had designated as a terrorist group.  Police reportedly arrested members of the Mahibere Kidusan for taking pictures of police officers during a demonstration outside the home of EOTC Co-Patriarch Mathias.  Demonstrators marched to show solidarity with Mathias after he publicly condemned the ongoing war in Tigray and characterized abuses against Tigrayans as genocide.

According to media, in July, police officers raided a church in Addis Ababa, interrupting prayers and forcing a dozen ethnic Tigrayan priests and monks into a pickup truck; they were released several weeks later.

In August, Minister of Health Lia Tadesse thanked the IRCE for holding a high-level advocacy meeting on reduction of stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS and their families.  She tweeted, “Our Creator does not stigmatize and discriminate; let’s not stigmatize and discriminate.”

On January 5, the BBC reported the government agreed to repair the al-Nejashi Mosque that was damaged in 2020 during the conflict in Tigray.  Local Muslims said the mosque was the oldest in Africa.  The government said a nearby church would also be repaired.

During the year, the government provided funding to religious schools, including 250 Catholic schools and 219 Islamic schools.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Human rights groups stated that societal violence was on the rise, especially in the context of the conflict in the northern part of the country.  Because ethnicity and religion are often closely linked and because criminality, politics, access to resources, and historical grievances were also drivers of violence, it was difficult to characterize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

In October, the Amhara Region Islamic Affairs Supreme Council said the TPLF had demolished a historic mosque in Zarema town, North Gondar, Amhara Region.  The secretary general of the council said the attack proved TPLF’s continued antireligious stand.  He said the TPLF had destroyed several other mosques and religious sites in the region and massacred religious students in madrassahs.

On March 5, according to the Addis Standard, members of the OLA killed 29 individuals in Abo Church in Debos Kebele, East Wollega, Oromia Region.  Witnesses said victims were marking the beginning of the EOTC’s two-month period of fasting.  Reports stated members of the OLA stormed into the church, immediately killing the church administrator.  The OLA members took the rest of the victims to a nearby forest and killed them.

In May, the EOTC stated that the government allowing Muslims to hold the Grand Iftar celebration in Meskel Square – of which the EOTC claimed traditional “ownership” – could threaten coexistence between the country’s Christians and Muslims.  The EOTC advised Muslims to hold the event at its usual venue, Abebe Bikila Stadium.  After the government disrupted the celebration on May 9 and despite the EOTC’s protests, the rescheduled celebration took place peacefully on May 11 in Meskel Square.

The Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (EIASC) expressed continued concern about what it said was the influence of foreign Salafist groups within the Muslim community.  The EIASC accused foreign Salafist groups of forcibly taking control of local mosques.  The EIASC said it continued to hold these foreign groups responsible for the exacerbation of tensions between Christians and Muslims and within the Muslim community.

According to the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and the EIASC, the number of Islamic religious schools was growing.  Abdul Geni Kedir, a headmaster at one school, said that the expansion of the schools, which were “significantly contributing to the spread of the faith,” reflected the steady increase of the community’s influence in society.  He said, “Islamic education has been reinforced by the burgeoning Islamic media and related public activities.  Now, we have private newspapers, television stations, educational videos, and there is an increase in the production of multilingual traditional and modern Islamic hymns.”

Observers described a small revival of Waaqeffanna – an indigenous religion in Oromia – especially on university campuses.

The IRCE continued to include representatives from the EOTC, EIASC, Catholic Church, and several evangelical Christian groups, including the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Ethiopian Kale Heywet Church, and Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In May and December, the Ambassador hosted EOTC Co-Patriarch Mathias to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Tigray and Mathias’ public statement that genocide was occurring in Tigray.  In a Facebook post following the May meeting, the embassy reported that the Ambassador discussed the humanitarian situation in Tigray as well as the Co-Patriarch’s video message on the crisis released a week earlier and reported widely in local press.  The Ambassador invited the Co-Patriarch to attend future interfaith community meetings to “further explore and continue their conversation.”

The U.S. government awarded several grants to the IRCE and other faith-based organizations to fund projects that encouraged religious tolerance.  In September, the embassy awarded funding to the Ghion Peace, Reconciliation and Development Association for a program promoting religious tolerance.  The program trained 60 youth and faith-based organizations to facilitate consultative workshops on peacebuilding and conflict mitigation within Amhara and Qimant communities.  Participants then led discussions with over 200 youth from the towns of Gondar and Chilga/Aykel on peacebuilding and conflict resolution.

In October, the embassy provided funding to the IRCE to design a two-day program for religious leaders on conflict prevention and mitigation, to be conducted in 2022.  This program, designed to encourage peacebuilding and religious and ethnic tolerance, would bring together IRCE members across the country to engage on security issues, including the conflicts in Tigray, Amhara, and Afar.  The embassy provided logistical and technical support to the IRCE as it began organizing the meeting and identifying potential conflict mitigation roles for regional and religious leaders at the community level.  The two-day program would establish a six-month engagement plan framework.

In August, the embassy provided funding to the Inter-Religious Council in Dire Dawa to facilitate a program to promote interreligious peacebuilding and tolerance in Harar, Chiro, and Dire Dawa by empowering leaders to work with youth and women in their constituencies to promote interreligious peace.

 

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future