The ancient nation of Ethiopia is proud of its long-standing independence. From 1896 until now, Ethiopia has avoided foreign control, with the exception of Italian occupation from 1936 to 1941. Internally, however, Ethiopia has had to grapple with political uprisings, coups and violence.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church enjoyed centuries of prominence. It remained the state church from 1270 until a military junta deposed Emperor Haile Salassie in 1974. The subsequent Marxist regime persecuted believers, seeking to destroy as many churches as possible. That regime was overthrown by rebel forces in 1991 and elections were held in 1995. However, a true democratic process remains elusive, with hundreds of political prisoners presently incarcerated; something the government denies.
While the constitution protects religious freedom, believers continue to face discrimination, threats and violence from both Islamic and Ethiopian Orthodox elements. In 2011, the Ethiopian government discovered plans by the Wahhabi Muslims to turn Ethiopia into an Islamic country and establish Shariah law. While they have been unable to carry out their threats, widower Tamirat Woldegorgis knows all too well the devastation that militant Muslims can cause. Tamirat was falsely accused of desecrating the Quran in 2010 and spent two years confined to a small cell with 50 other inmates. The harsh conditions left the Christian widower with one leg paralyzed. He then returned home on April 25, 2012 to find his two children missing. "I have been trying to locate my children, but all in vain," said Tamirat. "My life is ruined -- I have lost my house, my children, my health. I am now homeless, and I am limping."