Displaying items by tag: Eritrea
Eritrea remains one of the worst countries in the world for Christian persecution. Imprisoned Christians are tortured, starved, and forced into hard labour. Conditions are worse for pastors and theological students who are singled out for beatings or have their jail terms extended as a warning to others. Many Christians are held indefinitely, often without trial, not knowing when they will be released. Some are kept in shipping containers, where they are exposed to the searing desert heat by day and cold by night. 69 Christian prisoners were released in September 2020 in Covid-19 control measures. Most had been held for over ten years without trial, some for 16 years. The releases were made on condition that bail securities were lodged, usually in the form of property deeds, with guarantors held liable for the detainees’ future actions. None of the known imprisoned pastors or senior Christian leaders were among those released. Tens of thousands of Christians have fled from Eritrea to Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, and Israel.
Believers can languish in captivity for years in Eritrea. ‘They often aren’t even charged with anything and they don’t go to court’, said Greg Musselman from Voice of the Martyrs. In an unexpected move, Eritrea’s government released dozens of prisoners in late February. Many believers thought, ‘things are changing!’ But Musselman said, ‘The Eritrean government may be trying to curry favour with Ethiopia, their neighbouring country, because the prime minister there is a Christian. As recent arrests show, these changes were too good to be true. Our hopes that the Eritrean government was loosening its grip on evangelicals now seem to be going in the opposite direction. Eritrea is claiming religious freedom, but that’s not happening at all.’
On 22 March the European Union announced a number of sanctions on Eritrea’s national security office. This positive EU move should hardly be a surprise to the Eritrean government. It has faced sanctions for its human rights and religious freedom violations in the past, earning the nickname of ‘Africa’s North Korea’ for its systematic flaunting of international standards and its insular foreign policy. The recent sanctions target arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances of persons, and torture committed by its agents. Eritrea has a well-documented history of treating its prisoners inhumanely and of targeting religious minorities for particularly harsh treatment. Me’eter Prison, the customary holding place for Eritrean prisoners of conscience, is notorious for its regular use of torture, for example to induce religious recantations. Prisoners are kept in metal shipping containers placed on the open desert floor.
A rocket attack by Tigray forces on Eritrea marks a major escalation of violence as thousands of Ethiopian refugees continue to pour into Sudan. The UN refugee agency says that over 20,000 people have crossed into Sudan from Ethiopia’s northern region, where federal government troops are battling forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the party of the regional government. The conflict, which has spilled over Ethiopia’s borders, threatens to destabilise the wider Horn of Africa region. The latest two-week war has killed hundreds of people. Ethiopia and Eritrea agreed in 2018 to end decades of hostilities, resulting in Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed winning the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. However, there is still a deep-seated animosity between Eritrea and the battle-hardened TPLF over the border conflict.
The Eritrean government has released 69 Christian prisoners, many of whom have been in long-term detention without trial for their faith. Following the release of more than twenty male and female prisoners on 4 September, the authorities are continuing to make conditional releases from the notorious Mai Serwa prison which is known to put detainees in underground cells and metal shipping containers. The releases, linked to Covid-19 policies, are made on condition that bail securities are lodged, usually in the form of property deeds, with guarantors held liable for the detainees’ future actions. Christian leader Dr Berhane Asmelash hopes for further significant releases from the 300+ Christians, including children, who remain incarcerated.
In July Filmon, an Eritrean victim of anti-Christian persecution, applied for political asylum via Port Elizabeth (PE). The Department of Home Affairs told him to return after a month. Despite a court order for the department to reopen its Cape Town office, people like Filmon have to make repeated trips to PE. When he finally had a hearing on 9 October, the official concluded he was a genuine victim of religious persecution - but in November his application was refused, and despite being assisted by an experienced lawyer he got a permit for only one month. His wife Sharon, a medical doctor, who fled from their Marxist-governed country ahead of her husband, was also refused asylum. Filmon has been advised to pay a bribe, as the only way to be successful, but as a matter of principle he does not wish to do this. He now has to go to PE for the fifth time, unless God intervenes.
This month Eritrean police have arrested 32 Christians in the capital, Asmara, including a newlywed couple and ten of their guests. Eritrea’s human rights record was recently condemned at the UN Human Rights Council. A UN monitoring group said thousands of Christians are facing detention, as ‘religious freedom in Eritrea continues to be denied’. The council also heard that Eritrea’s claims of improvement in the human rights were unfounded. In 2002 Eritrea introduced a law prohibiting Christian practice outside the Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran denominations, and Sunni Islam.
Eritrea could be on the verge of major change. For 20+ years, it has battled with Ethiopia and Somalia. President Afewerki’s regime conscripts citizens indefinitely into fighting its wars, and represses opposition. Much of Eritrea’s money has gone to defence against enemies, resulting in it being one of the poorest countries, with a mass exodus of Eritreans to Europe part of the biggest global migration crisis since World War II. However, Ethiopia now has a new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed. He has already made a number of significant changes to government policy, including freeing thousands of political prisoners and amending a harsh anti-terrorism law. He has extended a hand of peace to Eritrea and agreed to a peace deal. Thousands of people celebrated, the border is open, embassies will open, and the countries will work together to strengthen ports, resume air flights, open telephone lines, and more. Afewerki’s regime has made Christians suffer as the 6th worst persecuted in the world, but Abiy has recently released 35 Christians from prison. Pray for Islamic extremists in the region to lose their power due to his influence.
According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), 122 Eritrean Christians were detained in May 2017, in a series of roundups of members of unregistered denominations in various locations around the country. The detentions mark a new phase in a crackdown that has been ongoing since May 2002, when the Eritrean government effectively outlawed all religious practices except the Catholic, Lutheran or Orthodox Christian denominations or Sunni Islam. Forty-five Christians, including entire families, elderly men and a disabled woman, were taken in Adi Quala and transported to a detention camp, leaving 23 children without their parents. 77 others were taken from other places; 45 of them, mostly women, were at a party celebrating a wedding. Further arrests are anticipated as the local authorities and the Orthodox Church continue their enquiries. Christians have begun a period of prayer and fasting for peace and safety.