Eritrea: Religious Persecution Exposed.

Date: Monday 22 September 2003
Subj: Eritrea: Religious Persecution Exposed.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.

Religious persecution continues unabated in Eritrea. The Christian media organisation Compass Direct reports that on 7 September, 12 evangelical Christians (described as young people) were arrested as they met in a private house for worship. The police chief in Asmara's Police Station No. 5 has ordered that their food rations be withheld until they sign papers denying their faith. The full Compass Direct release follows at the end of this posting.

Compass Direct estimates that there are at least 230 evangelical Christians currently jailed in Eritrea on account of their faith.

- and human rights organisations take up the cause.

On 17 September 2003, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a document entitled, "Eritrea: Release Political Prisoners". While it focuses primarily on political prisoners, including Eritrea's detained journalists, it also raises the issue of religious prisoners. "Religious minorities are also subject to persecution. Members of Pentecostal Christian churches and Jehovah's Witnesses are frequently arrested for practicing their faiths. There have been so many arrests that some prisoners are being incarcerated in empty cargo containers. International human rights organizations and the International Committee for the Red Cross have been denied access to prisons." (Link 1)

Amnesty International (AI) is also demanding the release of Eritrea' s prisoners of conscience, releasing a report on 18 September 2003 entitled "Eritrea: Continued detention of prisoners of conscience and new arrests of members of religious groups". (Link 2)

The Guardian newspaper (UK) followed this up with an article entitled "Eritrean children locked up for having Bibles, says Amnesty". (Link 3)

On 3 September the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) released the news that "The European Commission (EC) is to provide financial assistance to Eritrea under an initiative to back democracy and human rights. The funding will be released under the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR)."

Further excerpts of the IRIN release read, "An EC official told IRIN a mission would determine how the money would be allocated, and the project was still in the planning stages."

"But, the EC pointed out, the assistance depends on Eritrea's stated commitment to begin a political dialogue aimed at addressing issues such as political prisoners, press freedom and the holding of elections."

"Under article 96 of the Contonou agreement (which governs accords between the EU and African, Pacific and Caribbean [ACP] countries) aid can be withheld if any EU member state feels the recipient country has 'failed to fulfil its obligations stemming from respect for human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law'." (Link 4)

It is to be hoped that the EU funding will be an effective instrument of leverage to induce change in Eritrea. We should expect/demand that it should. No organisation can claim ignorance of Eritrea's religious persecution now - the persecution has been well and truly exposed.

- Elizabeth Kendal


1) Human Rights Watch, 17 September 2003
"Eritrea: Release Political Prisoners"

2) Amnesty International, 18 September 2003
"Eritrea: Continued detention of prisoners of conscience and new arrests of members of religious groups".

3) The Guardian, 20 September 2003
"Eritrean children locked up for having Bibles, says Amnesty". By Africa correspondent Rory Carroll.,3604,1045872,00.html

4) IRIN, 3 September 2003
"ERITREA: EC to support democracy, human rights project" )


No Word on Fate of 57 Teenagers Jailed at Sawa
Special to Compass Direct

LOS ANGELES, September 17 (Compass) -- Police in the Eritrean capital of Asmara continued the country-wide crackdown against independent Protestant congregations this month, arresting another 12 evangelicals on September 7 while they were meeting in a private house for prayer and worship.

With the exception of an older man hosting the prayer meeting in his home, the arrested Christians were described as young people, all members of the Dubre Bethel Church in Asmara.

Yesterday, after nine days in custody at Asmara's Police Station No. 5, the 12 prisoners were given an ultimatum by the police chief. He demanded that each one sign a commitment to deny his or her faith in order to be released.

When the six women and six men refused, the police chief last night ordered that all their food rations be withheld until they signed the agreement.

"Up to now, no one among them has been willing to sign the paper," a local source confirmed today.

Parents of the young people who have visited the police station have been told they can only see their children if they agreed to try to convince them to sign the denial paper. Several parents agreed to the conditions and were reportedly promised they could see their children today. Other parents refused, declaring that their children were over 18 and qualified to make their own decisions.

Meanwhile, local evangelical church leaders have not been able to learn anything further regarding the fate of 57 young people arrested and locked into metal containers since August 19 and 20 as punishment for having Bibles with them during their summer military camp at Sawa.

Although the majority were 11th grade students, some have been confirmed to be older conscripts in their 20s who were already in training at Sawa. An additional five of their number who signed pledges to renounce their evangelical faith were released a week later.

Military commanders confiscated a total of 315 Bibles in the Tigrinya language from the military camp barracks at the time of the youths' arrest. Translated several centuries ago, the Tigrinya version of the Bible is printed and distributed legally by the Eritrean Bible Society to all churches in the country, including the Eritrean Orthodox Church.

Local authorities have also refused to give any information about the status and whereabouts of 10 evangelicals arrested in Massawa on August 24. However, it was confirmed four days after the arrest that the 10 Protestants had been transferred to a very remote area, down the Red Sea coast toward Assab.

"This is a military area, where disobedient soldiers are sent to be punished," one source explained, "so we have not been able to find out anything more about them."

At least 230 evangelical Christians are currently jailed for their faith in Eritrea, where the government refuses to give recognition to any faiths except the four "official" religions: Orthodox Christian, Muslim, Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran.

Some 12 independent Pentecostal and charismatic denominations which represent 20,000 adherents have been targeted since May 2002, when they were ordered to close their church buildings and stop all meetings for worship, even in private homes.

Copyright 2003 Compass Direct

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