The defenseless Jehovah's Witnesses
Aida Kidane, 10 June 2003
The subject of the Jehovah's Witnesses was suddenly highlighted during
the Referendum in April 1993. A government official released a statement
they had refused to vote, and this naturally roused fury among the people,
which was the intention. But how many were they? Nobody seemed to know
their exact number and estimated them to roughly over a thousand in all

     I had intense discussions with former fighters why the government (and
some fighters) judged the Jehova's so harshely. In actual number, they were
so few in porportion to the population, their opposition would not damage
the outcome of the vote. A good example I heard was a woman whose only son
was martyred in the struggle, she had grieved a lot and at last found solace
in the sect.

     From my basic knowledge of the religion, it was not easy to differentiate
the "Yehovas" from the "Pentes" before that time. Just to initiate
controversy, I would ask those I knew well "Are you Yehova" The typical
answer was "Yehova means God, I'm Yehovah's Witness" And to the Pente, they
claimed to be "Christians" not Pentes. But I had respect to all religions.

     During the Haile Selassis era in Addis, the Jehovas were persecuted and
worshiped in hiding. When they were caught praying they would be thrown in
prison for a few days and released with their heads shaved. During the
regime of Col. Mengistu's their numbers seem to have multiplied in tenfold,
in that "Socialist" age of repression. A relative told me that he was forced
to join the government's Workers Party member (ESEPA) which he had no
desire being part of. To escape from it, he claimed to be a Pente and
frequented the church. This was good ground to be released and he was left

     I got increasingly curious of the religion and its practice and
subsequently met some Jehovah's Witnesses (JW) - after intnese interaction,
it confirmed my belief that they lacked broader awareness, and to be honest,
I found them to be a nuisance. They called on people's homes at all hours of
the day and people told me they sent their dogs on them or cast water on
them as they were adamant on their calling. Yet, there is always a small
percentage in every society differing considerably that they were ignored.

     After Referendum, the J.W. lost their rights to citizenship. Thus, they
were laid off their jobs, they could not buy or sell properties, could not
travel abroad or get passports. Despite my own misgiving of the religion
and their practice, I felt the government had gone too far in its
intolerance of a religious minority. The authorities were steadfast on the
decision and would not consider appeals. It appeared to me that the Jehova
Witnesses were being scapegoats for the increasing scale and visibility of
of the Jihad movement. they were a small minority of religious group who
were completely defenceless, making their prosecution easy. Ironically,
rather than come to the defence of their counterparts, he Pentes were afraid
for their own safety and and started talking against the J.W. I remember one
particular J.W. woman who was a well qualified surgery nurse with over 25
years experience in the Mekane Hewet Hospital. She was summarily fired from
her job during a perid of acute shortage of qualified persons. Others were
threatned and even physically attacked.

     In 1992, the torture chambers in Gibbi Inda Afras in Asmera were
preparing to be painted and I saw a cross marks in one of the tiny cells. I
was told it was the work of a J.W. who was tortured and killed for refusing
to comply and participate in any government activities. The JW believed in
a heavenly God as their ruler on earth and refuse to take part in any
violence. They practiced strict codes to live by, they did not drink, fight,
kill, steal or do harm to othrs. This should have come as welcome news,
when many of us remembr that drinking was a major problem in 1991 that a
curfew had to be instituted to all drinking outlets in Asmera.

     In recent months we are hearing of their increase attack once again - and
no one is coming to their defence. Their cause is no different than any
minority group which differs from the rest of society, whether it is on
political or religious grounds. The Eritrean Constitution fully guarantees
the freedom of expression and religious belief and practice. The
government's lack of tolerance is just another act of repression against a
group that have different views.

Historically, Eritrea is not the first country to persecute the JW. During
the Second World War in Mazi Germany,..........

Association of Contemporary Church Historians
(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)
John S. Conway,
Editor. University of British Columbia
Newsletter No. 11, December 1995

..The J.Ws were the first religious group to be forbidden and continued to
suffer unremittingly throughout the Nazi era. No other religious community
demonstrated its resistance in so decidedly an uncompromising fashion, or so
steadfastly refused to bow down to the Nazi wishes. Thousands were
incarcerated in concentration camps, where their resolute determination to
keep on witnessing to their faith gave them an extraordinary reputation, and
even finally earned a grudging respect from Himmler himself. ..

..Some Nazis believed the J.Ws were part of a communist conspiracy; others
suspected them of being Jewish or American infiltrators. In any case the
Nazi authorities proceeded promptly in 1933 to ban their activities
throughout Germany - measures which were greeted with approval by the
main-stream churches, who had long been aggravated by the J.Ws sectarian

Theologically the J.Ws had long been prepared for persecution by the
"satanic" forces of the Church, especially the Roman Catholics, and the
state. Repression only made them more resolute. This steadfast obstinacy
only increased the Nazis' determination to suppress the sect entirely, and
gave them an explicitly political excuse to stamp out "subversive
agitation". Already in 1933 J.Ws were dismissed from their jobs in both the
public and private sector, their pensions confiscated, and their livelihoods

The outbreak of war and the J.Ws unwavering determination not to take part
in any military activities led to even more severe repression, and to
numerous death sentences, not only for men of military age but also for
women, often imposed by the notorious People's Court. Doubts expressed by
some of the justice officials were brutally overruled by Hitler himself in
favour of exemplary deterrent measures against all such "defeatist
traitors"... - dok storlek:
27kB - engelska


Madame Geneviève de Gaulle, niece of General Charles de Gaulle, interned in
"I am very glad to be able to convey to you my testimony regarding the Bible
Students whom I met in the Ravensbruck [women's] camp.
"Indeed, I have true admiration for them. They belonged to various
nationalities: German, Polish, Russian and Czech, and have endured very
great sufferings for their beliefs. . . .

All of them showed very great courage and their attitude commanded
eventually even the respect of the S.S. They could have been immediately
freed if they had renounced their faith. But, on the contrary, they did not
cease resistance, even succeeding in introducing books and tracts into the
camp, which writings caused several among them to be hanged".

"Will Hatred Ever End?" The Watchtower 15 June 1995
Elie Wiesel, Nobel Prize winner and Holocaust survivor, writes: "The duty of
the survivor is to bear testimony to what happened . . . You have to warn
people that these things can happen, that evil can be unleashed. Race
hatred, violence, idolatries-they still flourish." The history of the 20th
century provides proof that hatred is not a fire that will burn itself out.

The defenceless journalist Ezra
This young man was recently publicised as a criminal and shown on video in
the internet. It was ridiculous to brand him with such charges while the
real major offenders are the onese who should have been interviewed. This
young man is bright and gifted and considerate to his friends. He has
clearly stated not taking any money. It was not long ago in the midst of
the war that youths went abroad right from the front lines, and had paid in
the many thousands. Who were responsible for this? Student I.D. cards were
sold in the many that all high school cards were changed.
In struggle time, many had done daring deeds. I remember stories of fighters
capturing a weapon or vehicle and repair it or dismantle it and use it in a
unique way. A couple had even highjacked airplanes. They were heroes to
their peers and as enemy by the government.

It reminded me of Yemane Barya in Khartoum. He was so kind that he forged
many people's papers for free or very little money, and even bought airline
tickets to the needy. So Ezra the small potato is grilled the worst! For me
he is a brave young man and it's important he did not do it for gain. In
fighting crime and corruption, it should be stamped out irrelevant of who
sits in power.
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Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Aida Kidane, who is solely responsible for the contents of this page, contributes the above article. For any comments, the writer can be contacted by e-mail: