A mob of Orthodox Church members led by priests attacked and killed an evangelical Christian pastor in his home two weeks ago in Merawi, a town in northwestern Ethiopia.

According to an Ethiopian evangelical who visited Merawi on July 21, Brother Dantew was fatally injured on the evening of July 17, several hours after he had asked for police protection for his church's new property and its members.

A teacher by profession, Dantew was the leading elder in Merawi's Full Gospel Church. Last May, authorities allocated land to the congregation for a church compound.

But when the congregation started to fence their new property on July 15, local Orthodox Church leaders reacted violently. That evening, a mob came and tore down the fence the church had built. Dantew informed the police and applied for their protection in writing. The next day they started constructing the fence again.

A night later, priests from the Mecha Wored Orthodox Church organized a larger, agitated mob to attack the compound; the attackers dismantled the fence and a storeroom on the property. Dantew sent messengers to the local police station for help. They found it unmanned.

By 9 p.m. that night, the evangelicals had fled to their homes, which they locked and barricaded after hearing gun shots. "We were hoping that the police would come to our rescue," said some of the evangelicals. "But it did not happen."

A half hour later, eyewitnesses said, a large mob surrounded Dantew's house, throwing stones and breaking down the fence and main gate. They smashed the doors, tore windows out of their frames, and even dismantled the roof.

When Dantew's wife, Tsige, was hit in the face by a stone, he begged her to try to escape from the house, which she managed to do. When the attackers got inside, they assaulted Dantew. In the attack, he suffered an axe blow to the head that left him badly bleeding.

Dantew's two teenage sons, 15 and 17, hid under the bed with a woman servant. When the attackers discovered them and wanted to beat them, the Orthodox priest directing the attack ordered them not to harm them, reportedly saying, "We want only the main leader."

The attackers ransacked the house, stealing or smashing everything, then left guards behind to prevent anyone from rescuing Dantew through the night. This included a neighboring doctor who asked to treat his injuries.

The house servant was allowed to leave, but Dantew's two sons spent the night in the same room with their dying father. When the guards left the next morning, Dantew was alive, but very weak. He died mid-morning on July 18 while his wife was taking him to the hospital.

The homes of eight other evangelical families also came under attack that night, which left their furniture and belongings destroyed. A believer identified as Melkamu was hospitalized from a severe beating with axes and sticks. His wife broke her left leg jumping from the fence around their compound while attempting to escape. The next morning, some 50 evangelicals fled to Bahir Dar, 25 miles away, to take refuge in the Full Gospel Church there.

Local police who failed to intervene in the attack later declared that the situation was "beyond their capacity," the visiting source said. Reinforcements summoned from Bahir Dar only arrived mid-morning on July 18, after the incident was over.

Full Gospel Church leaders requested a formal investigation into the attack by Bahir Dar authorities, resulting in the arrest of some 40 Orthodox Church members, including six priests. Three of the priests were identified as Melake Selam, Merigeta Bekatu, and Meriget Addis.

Some 60 miles northwest of the capital Addis Ababa, Merawi has two evangelical churches—the Meserete Kirstos Church and the Full Gospel Church. Since Protestant activities began in the area in 1987, both churches have faced growing persecution from the majority Orthodox Church leadership, who consider them a heretical sect and call them derisively "Pentes," or Pentecostals.

"Persecution has happened sporadically, by means of beatings, robbery and social isolation," one evangelical believer said.

Over the past 40 years, Protestant Ethiopians have grown rapidly from less than 200,000 to 12 million, nearly 20 percent of the population.

Copyright © 2002 Compass Direct

Related Elsewhere

For more news articles, see AllAfrica.com and Christianity Today's World Report.

The 2001 Religious Freedom Report for Ethiopia said, "While the relationship among religions in society is generally amicable, there continued to be pockets of interreligious tension and criticism between followers of evangelical and Pentecostal churches, on the one hand, and Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, on the other."