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Eritrean Police Halt Christian Wedding
by Compass Direct

LOS ANGELES, July 30 (Compass) -- Police disrupted a Christian marriage ceremony in the Eritrean town of Senafe on Sunday, July 25, arresting 30 guests and members of the wedding party and jailing them at the local police station.

Charging in and demanding a halt to the wedding, local police officials ordered everyone who was not a “Pente” to leave the place immediately. A derisive abbreviation for Pentecostals, “Pente” is used as a generic label for members of Eritrea’s outlawed evangelical churches.

Many of the guests left immediately, but the 30 evangelical Christians who remained were hauled off to a police station in Senafe, some 85 miles southeast of Asmara.

The jailed Protestants were from local Kale Hiwot and Full Gospel churches, as well as from various revival movements within the Orthodox Church in Senafe.

They included the bride’s father, 80-year-old Woldegabriel Gebremichel, and his whole family, all members of the Kale Hiwot church. A Kale Hiwot evangelist identified by his first name Michel and another elderly man in his 80s, Teame Kibrom, were among the prisoners.

Commanders responsible for the arrest refused requests from relatives trying to visit or inquire about the detainees until yesterday, when all but two of the prisoners were released. The 28 evangelicals were set free after they signed a document promising not to participate in any evangelical Christian wedding in the future.

Police continue to hold in prison custody the Kale Hiwot evangelist Michel and church elder Kibrom, declaring the two responsible for a wedding that “violated Eritrean cultural traditions” and defied the government ban on evangelical church activities.

Meanwhile, National Security Agency officials have not yet responded to petitions to release on bail three prominent Protestant pastors jailed since late May in Asmara police stations. Imprisoned without charges, Rev. Haile Naizgi and Dr. Kiflu Gebremeske of the Full Gospel Church and Pastor Tesfatsion Hagos of the Rema Evangelical Church have been refused all contact with their families.

More than 400 evangelical Christians are currently jailed by the Eritrean government, which closed down the places of worship of 12 Protestant denominations in May 2002.

Many of those caught worshipping and praying in their homes or while completing their obligatory military service have been beaten, tortured and incarcerated for months in metal shipping containers, trying to force them to sign a promise to recant their faith and return to the dominant Orthodox Church.

Only the Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran and Muslim faiths are recognized as “official” religions by the Eritrean government.

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