NAIROBI, Kenya (Compass Direct News) – A Christian in Ethiopia's southern town of Moyale who languished in jail for more than three months after he was accused of desecrating the Quran has been sentenced to three years of prison, church leaders said.
Tamirat Woldegorgis, a member of the Full Gospel Church in his early 30s, was arrested in early August after a Muslim co-worker in the clothes-making business the two operated out of a rented home discovered Woldegorgis had inscribed "Jesus is Lord" on some cloth, area Christians said. His business partner later accused him of writing "Jesus is Lord" in a copy of the Quran, although no evidence of that ever surfaced.
Woldegorgis was sentenced on Nov. 18 for allegedly defacing the Quran and was subsequently transferred to Jijiga prison, a source said. Jijiga is the capital of Ethiopia's Somali Region Zone Five, which is governed by Islamic principles, and his transfer there – after a period in which his whereabouts were unknown – puts his life in greater danger, a church leader said.
In Ethiopia's federal state system, each state is autonomous in its administration, and most of those holding government positions in Somali Region Zone Five are Muslims.
"Three years in a harsh jail in Jijiga for an innocent man is quite costly," said the church leader, who requested anonymity for security reasons.
The church is concerned about the condition of the father of two from Hagarmariam village.
Additionally, two of Woldegorgis' friends were fined 5,000 Kenyan shillings (US$60) each for supporting him by either taking food to him or visiting him while in prison. The two were said to be condemned for supporting a criminal who allegedly desecrated the Quran and allegedly defamed Islam, church leaders said.
Woldegorgis' Muslim associate, whose name has not been established, had gone to a mosque with the accusation that Woldegorgis had written "Jesus is Lord" in the Quran itself, sources said. Angry sheikhs at the mosque subsequently had Woldegorgis arrested for desecrating the book sacred to Islam, they said. Other sources said, however, that Muslims accused Woldegorgis of writing "Jesus is Lord" on a piece of wood, on a minibus and then on the wall of a house.
Sources previously told Compass that authorities had offered to release Woldegorgis if he would convert to Islam.
Hostility toward those spreading faiths different from Islam is a common occurrence in predominantly Muslim areas of Ethiopia and neighboring countries, they said. Christians are often subject to harassment and intimidation.
Ethiopia's constitution, laws and policies generally respect freedom of religion, but occasionally some local authorities infringe on this right, according to the U.S. Department of State's 2010 International Religious Freedom Report.
According to the 2007 census, 44 percent of Ethiopia's population affiliate with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, 19 percent are evangelical and Pentecostal and 34 percent are Sunni Muslim.