Ethiopia is about two-thirds Christian, one-third Muslim, with the vast majority of Muslims being Sufi. Freedom of religion is granted by the constitution, however, the threat of Al-Shabaab Somali terrorists remains high, and the government has specifically interfered with and restrained the affairs and practices of the Muslim population in its counterrorism efforts. Freedom of the press is severely restricted, and suppression of opposition political voices is frequent.

Grave Violations
Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory
Free and Equal

Constitution and government

Ethiopia is officially a secular state with no state religion. The constitution sets the principle of the separation of church and state and religious political parties are banned. The government gives its citizens the constitutional right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. Article 27 of Ethiopia’s states that “This right shall include freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or in private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching. No one shall be subject to coercion by force or any other means, which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.”

Government relations with religion

Christian and Muslim holidays are officially recognized by the government. The establishment of the National Inter-Faith Peace Council—a national organization that joins with local governments to promote interreligious coexistence shows the government’s efforts to promote religious pluralism and understanding.

The government requires religious institutions to register with the Ministry of Justice every three years. Some have argued that this policy hurts newer religious groups in Ethiopia, like Protestant Christians. There has been differential treatments for the religious groups, with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church receiving better land grants and building permits for constructing new churches, while minorities struggle to secure land to construction religious buildings.

The government has infringed on and restrained the religious rights of Muslims for some time. Since July 2011, the Ethiopian government has attempted to impose the al-Ahbash sect on the Muslim community. Muslims have been displeased that the government has supposedly manipulated the election of the new leaders of the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (EIASC) and interfered with the affairs of the Muslim community. The government’s control of Muslim resulted from a counterrorism response to nearby Somalia. It has sent troops into Somalia to battle Islamist rebels. Many Muslims have held weekly mosque sit-ins and street protests in Addis Ababa and dozens have been arrested.

Education and children’s rights

All religious instruction in schools is outlawed in both public and private schools, including those run by religious organizations. Religious education may occur in Sunday Schools and mosques, and other special religious education programs. Article 27 states that “Parents and legal guardians shall have the right, in accordance with their belief, to give their children religious or moral instruction.”

Family, community and society

Ethiopia does not have an electoral democratic political system. EPRDF (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front) had tight control of the 2010 parliamentary and regional elections. Voters were threatened with loss of their jobs, homes, or government services if they did not support the ruling party. Meetings opposing the party were disintegrated, and candidates were threatened and detained.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

The constitution protects the people from religious persecution and discrimination, and endeavours to prohibit religious hatred. However, article 816 in the Criminal Code exceeds this goal, stating that anyone who publicly, by:

“…gestures or words scoffs at religion or expresses himself in a manner which is blasphemous, scandalous or grossly offensive to the feelings or convictions of others or towards the Divine Being or the religious symbols, rites or religious personages, is punishable with fine or arrest not exceeding one month.”

Article 492 in the Criminal Code further states:

“Whoever publicly prevents the solemnization of, or disturbs or scoffs at, an authorized religious ceremony or office; or profanes a place, image or object used for religious ceremonies, is punishable with fine not exceeding one thousand Birr, or with simple imprisonment not exceeding two years.”

Freedom of the press

The 2009 Anti-terrorism Proclamation caused journalists who reported on opposition activities to face serious harassment and the threat of prosecution. In 2011, Parliament’s lower house declared five groups to be terrorist entities, which included the opposition movement Ginbot 7 that was based in the U.S. Journalists who interviewed members of the movement were arrested with terrorism charges. It was estimated that there were as many as 400 political prisoners by the end of 2012. In June that year, 24 journalists and opposition activists were found guilty, including the award-winning journalist Eskinder Nega, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison. State-owned broadcasters and government-oriented newspapers dominated the media. Addis Neger, one of the few independent papers in the capital, claimed to have been harassed by authorities and closed in 2009. Privately-owned papers don’t circulate much and tend to avoid political issues. A 2008 media law made defamation illegal and allowed prosecutors to seize material before publication for national security. The 2009 Charities and Societies Proclamation put restrictions on the activities of foreign and domestic NGOs that receive more than 10 percent of their funds from overseas. Their work on political and human rights issues have been prohibited.