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Scheherazade Foundation asks George Osborne for Christmas go-ahead for return of British Museum religious treasures to Ethiopian Orthodox Church

The Scheherazade Foundation is pressing the newly installed chairman of the British Museum, George Osborne, to decide in the season of goodwill on the restoration of hidden religious treasures to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Posted on 16 December 2021

The foundation made its case for the return of the altar tablets called Tabots looted in the wake of the 1868 Battle of Maqdala, in September when Mr Osborne was about to take the reins of the British Museum from Sir Richard Lambert.

Now, represented by law firm Leigh Day, the Scheherazade Foundation has written to Mr Osborne to repeat its request that the objects, which are replicas of the Mosaic stone tablets inscribed with the 10 Commandments and kept hidden in the vaults of the British Museum for the past 150 years, be returned to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church which holds them to be of incalculable sacred importance.
 
Acknowledging the sanctity with which the Tabots are viewed, the British Museum has never put them on public display and never allowed them to be studied, copied or photographed.
 
In those circumstances, the foundation has been advised that the objects could be returned to the people of Ethiopia under Section 5 of the British Museum Act 1963 because the Act allows for the return of museum objects deemed by the trustees to be unfit to be retained and no longer relevant to the museum’s purpose. Legal opinion on the matter was written for the foundation by Samantha Knights QC of Matrix Chambers.
 
In its letter to Mr Osborne, the Scheherazade Foundation asks for a formal decision by the trustees of the Museum by the end of January 2022 and reminds him that its plea for the restoration of the Tabots is supported by notables including former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, Lords Alton, Boateng, Foster of Bath, Jay of Ewelme, Jones of Cheltenham and Myners, Baroness Boycott and Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, Stephen Fry, Lemn Sissay OBE, Geoffrey Robertson QC and former British Ambassador to Ethiopia Sir Harold Walker.
 
Tahir Shah, CEO of The Scheherazade Foundation, said:
 
“What better time of year and what better way to signal the beginning of his role as Chairman of the British Museum could there be for George Osborne than to ask the trustees to authorise the return of these precious religious objects to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. We hope that in the spirit of the season and, as our letter says, in the spirit of building bridges between Britain and Ethiopia, that Mr Osborne will agree to the restoration of the Tabots to the country where they belong.”
 
Leigh Day partner Tessa Gregory, who represents The Scheherazade Foundation said:
 
“It is quite clear that the Trustees of the British Museum have the power under the British Museum Act 1963 to give the Tabots back to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The acknowledged sanctity of the objects means they have never been, and never will be put on public display. Neither can they be used for any kind of study or research. 
“We first made our client’s case for the return of the Tabots in September and now that it is almost Christmas, our client believes this would be a very appropriate time to announce a decision authorising the return of objects of such religious significance to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.”

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Tessa Gregory
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Tessa Gregory

Tessa is an experienced litigator who specialises in international and domestic human rights law cases

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