Pentecostal church in Ethiopia told to close after it was attacked by mob

Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Addis Abeba | Wikimedia Commons/VBzi

A Pentecostal church in Ethiopia has been ordered by local authorities to stop conducting religious services after it was attacked by a mob in June.

The Full Gospel Church in Tikil Dingaye was reportedly attacked on the morning of June 11 by a mob, believed to be a part of a student movement called Mahibere Kidusan, according to World Watch Monitor.

The mob reportedly destroyed the church's meeting hall, offices and the accommodation of a church worker. The perpetrators also stole money from church members and assaulted some of them, including a man whose front teeth needed to be removed because of his injuries.

The movement has been described by critics as "fanatical" because of the way it tries to preserve the traditions and dominance of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC).

However, the EOC Patriarch has criticized the group in the past for "bringing unfounded charges" when it claimed that the evangelical renewal movement in the Church was infiltrating EOC-administered seminaries.

A member of the mob has been suspected of stealing church documents outlining plans for evangelism and turning them over to the police. A church member was later arrested and charged with "inciting religious clashes through illegal activities."

When the church leaders went to the local administration office in Gondar to ask for protection against further attacks, they were issued a letter informing them that they are no longer permitted to hold religious services in a residential area.

Prior to the letter from the officials, the congregation had been meeting in a house because its application for a land to build a church had been turned down by the authorities.

Although religious freedom is guaranteed in Ethiopia, Pentecostal churches in rural areas often face restrictions in a society dominated by EOC.

The persecution watch dog group Open Doors has ranked Ethiopia in the 2017 World Watch List as the 22nd most difficult country to live as a Christian.

Last month a 27-year-old Christian needed life-saving surgery after he was attacked by a mob of Muslims because of his evangelistic activities.

Local Muslims initially attacked the Full Gospel Church in Hirna, a rural town in the Mirab Hararghe Zone east of Addis Ababa, before targeting the 27-year-old Christian in his home. The victim sustained deep wounds to the back of his head after he was attacked with machetes. The man was sent to a hospital in Adama, where he received specialized treatment for his injuries.

According to Open Doors, the violence against Christians in Ethiopia increased during the organization's 2017 reporting period. Over 100 incidents have been documented including physical attacks on people and businesses, imprisonment and murder.