Eritrea Persecutes Those Who Do Not Belong to Four 'Official' Religions

by Joanna S.Wong
Posted: Thursday, March 25, 2004, 17:03 (GMT)
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One week ago, one family from Rema Charismatic Church was caught while they were praying and reading the Bible together last week.

Eritrean authorities began raiding the private homes of evangelical Christians, after President Isaias Afwerki had ordered the police and military to arrest any individuals and groups not belonging to Eritrea's four "official" religions (Orthodox, Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran and Muslim). The head of the home was charged with trying to "start a new religion" in Eritrea.

In two separate arrests in the capital of Asmara, families (including children) from the Rema Charismatic Church were arrested and sent to prison. The first incident happened on March 17, while nine believers including husband and wife; six children and father-in-law, were having family devotions together. The police raided the home and put them all under arrest without warning. After spending the night at a nearby police station, they were transferred to the Adi Abeto prison outside Asmara.

Another arrest confirmed was on the evening of February 23, while ten believers from the Full Gospel Church were having meeting in a home in the Aba Shwale district of Asmara, the police came and took them to jail. All remain in prison except for an elderly lady hosting the group, who was ordered to pay a fine of 500 Nakfa ($37, locally more than half a month's salary) for holding an illegal meeting for worship in her home.

According to latest reports, of the 51 evangelicals from Asmara's Hallelujah Church who were arrested in mid February, 46 remain under incommunicado arrest at either the Adi Abeto or Mai Serwa military prisons.

All of Eritrea's independent Protestant denominations were closed by government order in May 2002 and their congregations forbidden to worship, even in their homes. At present, at least 373 Protestant Christians are confirmed jailed and subjected to severe torture across the country for refusing to recant their faith, some for nearly two years.

Earlier this month, President Afwerki warned in a public speech that some religious groups in Eritrea were being deluded by foreigners to "distract from the unity of the Eritrean people and distort the true meaning of religion." Afwerki declared that such "futile efforts" would not be tolerated by his government.

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