12/15/2016 Washington, D.C.
(International Christian Concern
) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that four Christian girls, unjustly imprisoned in the largely Muslim town of Babile, Ethiopia, were released on December 15, 2016. Martha Solomon Kebede, 18, Miheret Abera Mulat, 17, Gifti Dabesa Fekyisa, 17, and Eden Serawit Mekuria, 15, were imprisoned on September 20, 2016 for having a religious discussion with Muslim friends.
Local authorities arrested the teenage girls because of their personal discussion about Islam and Christianity with Muslims friends. Knowledge of the religious discussion reached the parents of said Muslim friends, sparking an outrage that reached Muslim elders and officials. Consequently, the four Christian girls were arrested and imprisoned for “painting a bad image of Islam and the prophet Mohammed by calling him crazy.”
Prosecutors initially demanded 15 years in jail for the girls, but a High Court Judge in Harar overruled the request and granted a release date of October 1, 2016 with a fine of 3,000 Birr ($130.00 USD). Immediately following their release in October, local police rearrested and imprisoned the four girls. Once again, the prosecutor requested 15 years in prison, this time before the Regional court of Adama.
Once again, the case was dismissed with no prison sentence. And once again, local police ignored the court ruling and rearrested the girls, this time to face the local court in Babile. In early November, the four were sentenced to one month in prison and were moved to a high security prison to serve out their sentence.
A federal government official, who wished to remain anonymous, told ICC, “It is against the law for minors to be put in prison with adults.”
During these court dealings, local radicals in the Muslim town of Babile began threatening the families of the girls, inciting mobs and shouting, “We will burn your families alive.” A Swahili post on Facebook even advocated for the murder of one of the girls, stating, “Any Muslim who finds this woman should kill her.”
“I am worried about what is going to happen to me once I get out, if I get out,” Kebede told ICC last week.
Now that the girls are released, family and friends are concerned that local radicals will follow through on their threats. Mulat’s brother told ICC, “There is [an] imminent threat on her life.”
Sara Solomon, ICC’s Regional Manager, said, “Local authorities ignored the Ethiopian constitution, Ethiopian law, and the decisions of at least two higher courts to imprison these Christian girls unjustly. The federal government must do more to ensure that the constitution is upheld at the local level and tackle extremism. These four girls’ lives have already been disrupted and are now in imminent danger simply for sharing their faith. We hope that the girls and their families will be able to find safety and that similar incidents will be prevented in the future.”