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A post falsely claims Ethiopian Orthodox archbishop fled to the US

In World
January 16, 2024

Ethiopia’s Orthodox Church faced a crisis in 2023 when a group of rebel archbishops created a dissident synod. The rift was eventually resolved but disinformation linked to the incident continues to circulate online. In one recent example, the church’s general secretary was accused of fleeing to the United States for ethnic defamation and “instigating conflicts”, and that he traveled without authorisation from the church. However, the claim is false: the church confirmed to AFP Fact Check that Archbishop Petros had flown to America to hold an Epiphany service in late January and would return to Addis Ababa afterwards.

“Abune Petros fled the country,” reads the headline of a Facebook post published in Amharic on January 11, 2024.

Abune is an honorific title used for bishops belonging to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. 

“Abune Petros, who is known for instigating conflicts and defaming other ethnic groups, fled the country today,” says the post, which has been shared more than 230 times and has drawn 3,100 interactions.

 

<span>Screenshot of the false post, taken on January 12, 2024 </span>” data-src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/LTTiIIner3_MIvr_CFUoOQ–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTEwOTg-/https://media.zenfs.com/en/afp_factcheck_us_713/40943ed5326c79b9b2d83c5ff1f9ec18″><noscript><img alt=Screenshot of the false post, taken on January 12, 2024 ” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/LTTiIIner3_MIvr_CFUoOQ–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTEwOTg-/https://media.zenfs.com/en/afp_factcheck_us_713/40943ed5326c79b9b2d83c5ff1f9ec18″ class=”caas-img”>

Screenshot of the false post, taken on January 12, 2024

“Abune Petros fled the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church today without authorisation of the church by presenting fake travel documents,” it continues.

The Facebook page behind the post frequently publishes content linked to the Ethiopian government. 

Church rift

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church faced a rift in January 2023 when archbishops from Oromia, the largest region in the country, rebelled to demand (archived here) fair representation in the Holy Synod as well as services in other native languages besides Amharic. 

The following month, the Holy Synod announced that the crisis had been resolved (archived here) through discussions with the dissenting church members. The Ethiopian prime minister was also involved in mediating between the Holy Synod and the rebel group. 

Archbishop Petros commented (archived here) on the rift multiple times during the stand-off. 

However, the claim that the he had headed to the US illegally is unfounded. 

Authorised travel 

The church refuted the unauthorised travel claim, saying the archbishop had flown to the US to visit his diocese in New York.

“In addition to his responsibility as general secretary of the Holy Synod, His Grace Abune Perros is archbishop of the diocese of New York,” it told AFP Fact Check in an email on January 12, 2024. 

“His travel to New York has been authorised by the standing members of the Holy Synod. He will be back in Addis in the first week of February to continue his assignment as general secretary of the Holy Synod office.”

An Amharic-language press release (archived here) on the church’s official website also confirmed that the archbishop had travelled to his US diocese to celebrate an Epiphany service on January 20, 2024. 

<span>Screenshot of a press release issued by the church, taken on January 12, 2024</span>” data-src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/ZoLebiX8az.P_IMTmUYrSg–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTkzNw–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/afp_factcheck_us_713/031de3741ccd617f2382206c32aff279″><noscript><img alt=Screenshot of a press release issued by the church, taken on January 12, 2024” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/ZoLebiX8az.P_IMTmUYrSg–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTkzNw–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/afp_factcheck_us_713/031de3741ccd617f2382206c32aff279″ class=”caas-img”>

Screenshot of a press release issued by the church, taken on January 12, 2024

“The rumours circulating on various social media regarding his trip are unfounded,” the statement says.  

The Ethiopian Epiphany is a colourful religious festival celebrated among followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church every January and listed by UNESCO as a cultural heritage of humanity (archived here). 

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