Displaying items by tag: Eritrea
A wave of releases of Christian prisoners was not a change in policy, as had been hoped. It has been followed by the arrest of eight Full Gospel Church leaders, and 35 Christians were detained after raids on two prayer meetings. Three of the Full Gospel leaders are pastors in their seventies. Police took Pastor Araya (75) and Pastor Okbamichael (74) from their homes in the middle of the night and placed them in a maximum-security interrogation centre. Pastor Gebreab (72) was sick and placed under house arrest until he recovers enough to be incarcerated. No reason was given for their arrest. Also following the discovery of a list of Christian contacts, fifteen men and women from different churches in Asmara have been re-arrested. Having been imprisoned for their faith for between five and 16 years, they had been released last summer.
In Tigray 353,000 starving people are in phase 5 (catastrophe) and 1.769 million in phase 4 (emergency). In other words, famine, though the Ethiopian government refuses to call it famine. Huge numbers of deaths by starvation are unavoidable. In remote villages people are found dead in the morning, having perished overnight. Women who were kidnapped by soldiers and held as sexual slaves, now in hospitals or safe houses, are separated from their children, tormented by the fear they will starve without their mothers' care. Death by starvation happens when the undernourished body consumes its own organs to generate enough energy to keep a flicker of life. Most of the nation is controlled by rebels or military who do not cooperate with humanitarian agencies. Eritrean forces joined the conflict and along with the Ethiopian army they pillage, burn crops, destroy health facilities, and prevent farmers from ploughing their land. This is a man-made famine. There is no drought, and last year's locust swarms have gone.
Christians are increasingly being persecuted violently: by brutal IS in the Middle East, Boko Haram in Nigeria, and Hindu extremists in India. Release International issued a report on persecution trends in 2021. It is a wake-up call to take our prayers for our persecuted family to new levels. Nigerian attacks are driven by Islamist ideologies to destroy ‘the infidels’. 300 Christians remain detained without trial inside Eritrea. The Chinese government is increasing its ‘clean-cup’ of anything that does not advance the communist agenda. North Korea’s policy against Christians is the longest, harshest persecution in recorded history. Iranians constantly fear they are under surveillance when they meet secretly. The pressure has led to an exodus from Iran that will continue in 2021. Egyptian Christian converts from a Muslim background will continue to pay a high price for their faith and will be expelled from their families, divorced, and lose their employment.
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.