Friday, September 29, 2006

Eritrea: Appalling religious situation continues to deteriorate.

Date: Friday 29 September 2006
Subj: Eritrea: Appalling religious situation continues to deteriorate.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


Recent reports from Compass Direct (CD) indicate that the appalling religious situation in Eritrea continues to deteriorate.

CD reports: "Newly compiled statistics smuggled out of Eritrea indicate that at least 1,918 Eritrean citizens are imprisoned and being subjected to torture and forced labor because of their religious beliefs.

"According to a detailed list obtained by Compass last month, 95 percent of these known religious prisoners of conscience are Christians.

"A total of 35 pastors, priests and church elders are confirmed under arrest in Asmara's Wongel Mermera investigation center. An additional 1,758 Christians of both evangelical Protestant and Orthodox confessions are jailed in 14 other cities and towns.

"According to reports compiled by Compass, 163 of these Christian prisoners have been put under arrest since the beginning of 2006. As many as a fourth of all those jailed are believed to have been incarcerated for two years or more." (Link 1)

According to CD, 69 Muslims are imprisoned for opposing the government-appointed mufti, and 27 Jehovah's Witnesses are imprisoned because of their conscientious objections to compulsory military conscription.

CD reports: "None of those imprisoned for their religious beliefs in the
government crackdown begun more than four years ago have been brought before
a court of law to be charged or tried."

The CD report gives a breakdown of the numbers of Christians in various prison facilities. It also details the tragic fate of those who attempt to escape from these facilities into the surrounding desert.

As noted by CD, the persecution has spread way beyond those Protestant churches initially targeted in May 2002. The Eritrean Orthodox Patriarch Abune Antonios, who was deposed and replaced by the government in January, remains under house arrest. Subsequently, "Since March, 65 leaders of the Medhane Alem renewal movement within the Eritrean Orthodox Church have been openly threatened with excommunication if they refuse to confess following 'heretical' teachings."

Asmara's Anglican Church is also facing repression. CD reports, "The Department of Religious Affairs has refused to allow the Anglican Church in Asmara to supply its own pulpit since October 2005, when the Rev. Nelson Fernandez was summarily ordered out of the country. To the 'expressed dismay' of the Anglican congregation, one source said, control of the worship and activities of the church has been handed over to the government-registered Lutheran Church.

"Reports are circulating in Asmara that the government plans to shut down the Anglican Elementary School in the near future." (Link 1)

According to another CD report: "The Eritrean government demanded this month that the Kale Hiwot Church surrender all its property and physical assets to the government.

"The written confiscation order targets possessions of the Protestant church's relief department, which has for more than 20 years functioned as a legally recognized non-governmental organization (NGO) under the Eritrean Relief and Rehabilitation Commission." (Link 2)

CD adds that the sweeping property confiscation would include all church buildings, schools, vehicles and other assets. The church's computers, office equipment, files and keys to the property were confiscated in raids last October. The government action not only affects the church, but the orphanage and kindergartens run by the Kale Hiwot Church.

Eritrean Christians have told CD that they believe that a strategic persecution is being executed in three stages:
1) the arrest of pastors and leaders (leaving the congregations leaderless),
2) the raiding and sealing of church places of worship (leaving leaderless congregations destitute and without facilities),
3) the permanent confiscation of church properties and assets (supposedly bringing an end to the church's existence).

CD reports: "'All the closed churches here are undergoing a great deal of hardship and challenge to exist,' one source stated. But despite ongoing arrests and surveillance, local evangelicals told Compass they were 'continuing to meet for worship, prayer and Bible studies' in their homes. 'Please pray for God's protection, especially when we meet for prayer,' one said. 'All the churches are in a desperate need of Bibles for their ministries.'" (Link 1)

Eritrea has no independent media. Free Christians and human rights monitors leak this information at great personal risk. The government of Isaias Afewerki continues to deny that any religious persecution exists. Doubtless exacerbating the situation are the escalating tensions between Eritrea and Ethiopia (Coptic Orthodox Christian), over their border dispute and over Somalia.

Elizabeth Kendal

Links

Compass Direct News

1) ERITREA: Religious prisoner count tops 1,900
8 September 2006 (Compass Direct News)

2) ERITREA: Government orders Protestant assets confiscated
20 September 2006 (Compass Direct News)