September 15 (Compass) -- Eritrean security police pounced on five
evangelical Christians holding a prayer meeting in their church
office in Asmara last week, hauling them off under arrest to a local
Five members of the newly formed New Covenant Church meeting at
an office building in the capital were taken into custody about 7:30
in the evening on September 7.
Reportedly six or seven security officials were systematically
searching through an entire corridor of offices in the building when
they came upon the small group praying together in their office.
After a day’s detention at Police Station No. 2, the one woman
among them was released, but the four men were transferred to cells
at the Adi-Abyto military camp outside Asmara. Among the jailed men
was the pastor, identified only by his first name of Yohannes, and
his assistant, named David.
Meanwhile, three leading Protestant pastors jailed since late May
remain under arrest in a dungeon-like inner prison in Asmara, where
many of Eritrea’s prominent political dissidents incarcerated over
the past three years are believed to be held.
At last report, Pastor Tesfatsion Hagos of the Rema Evangelical
Church and Full Gospel Church pastors Rev. Haile Naizgi and Dr.
Kiflu Gebremeske were being held at Wongel Mermera, a government
investigation center located behind Police Station No. 2 in the
“Short-term imprisonment in this place is something which occurs
rarely,” a source told Compass. Prison authorities have refused to
allow the pastors’ families or friends to deliver any food or other
provisions to the men since late August, when they were moved to
Wongel Mermera from a local police station.
Popular evangelical Christian singer Helen Berhane also remains
jailed in strict isolation in a metal container at Mai Serwa, just
north of Asmara. Since her arrest four months ago, Berhane has
refused to sign a promise to stop participating in evangelical
activities and return to the Orthodox church.
According to reliable sources, an elderly man from the Jehovah’s
Witnesses faith who had been incarcerated for many months in a
container at Mai Serwa was finally released last week. Leaders of
the government-targeted Jehovah’s Witnesses sect had feared for the
man’s life, since he was 96 years old and suffering from chronic
Last week, the Eritrean government also expelled the last
international journalist based in Asmara, ordering BBC correspondent
Jonah Fisher to leave the country within three days. “As a
foreigner, I am fortunate,” Fisher wrote in a BBC release on
September 10. “Had I been Eritrean, I have little doubt that I would
now be in detention.”
The regime of President Issayas Afewerki banned all of Eritrea’s
independent Protestant churches in May 2002, ordering their
buildings closed and criminalizing any meetings for private worship
in members’ homes. The 12 outlawed denominations represent
congregations totaling at least 20,000 members.
Along with adherents of Islam, who represent nearly half the
population, only the Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran churches are
recognized by the Department of Religious Affairs as “official”