ANGELES, September 8 (Compass Direct News) – Newly compiled
statistics smuggled out of Eritrea indicate that at least 1,918
Eritrean citizens are imprisoned and being subjected to torture and
forced labor because of their religious beliefs.
According to a detailed list obtained by Compass last month, 95
percent of these known religious prisoners of conscience are
A total of 35 pastors, priests and church elders are confirmed
under arrest in Asmara’s Wongel Mermera investigation center. An
additional 1,758 Christians of both evangelical Protestant and
Orthodox confessions are jailed in 14 other cities and towns.
According to reports compiled by Compass, 163 of these Christian
prisoners have been put under arrest since the beginning of 2006. As
many as a fourth of all those jailed are believed to have been
incarcerated for two years or more.
Additionally, 69 Muslims are being held in Wongel Mermera for
opposing the government-appointed mufti. They include Taha Mohammed
Noor, a founding member of the Eritrean Liberation Front in 1961 and
a member of the Islamic Awqaf (religious foundation).
Arrested in Asmara on November 25, 2005, Noor reportedly has
refused under torture to accept government interference with the
religious affairs of Eritrean Muslims, who constitute half of the
At least 27 Jehovah’s Witnesses are also imprisoned because of
their conscientious objections to military conscription, which
Eritrean law requires of all citizens, both male and female.
None of those imprisoned for their religious beliefs in the
government crackdown begun more than four years ago have been
brought before a court of law to be charged or tried.
According to the latest breakdown, 475 Christians are jailed at
Wi’a, 250 at Sawa (including 50 students arrested from Mai Nefhee
Academy last May), 192 at Dongoloi Ai Ai, 130 at Mai-Serwa, 78 at
Adi-Abyto, 55 in Sembel Prison, 155 in various Asmara police
stations, 37 in the Keren police station, 22 in the Mendefera police
station, 115 at Assab, 97 at Gelalo, 21 in the Dekemhare police
station, 56 in the Adi-Kualaa police station, and 75 in the Massawa
During August still another 29 Protestant Christians were
arrested in the cities of Asmara, Keren and Massawa, according to
the London-based Release Eritrea organization.
Ten evangelicals attending a home prayer meeting in Asmara’s
Edaga Arbi district were arrested on August 17, Release Eritrea
reported on August 25. In similar raids in the cities of Keren and
Massawa earlier in the month, Eritrean police jailed another 15 and
4 people, respectively.
The only known releases in recent weeks occurred in Wi’a, where a
reported handful among the hundreds of Christian soldiers in a
military jail were set free after signing statements to recant their
Other prisoners have escaped – into a dangerous desert. Local
sources confirmed that 15 of the 130 Christian prisoners being held
in metal shipping containers at Assab’s military prison camp managed
to escape in the early morning hours of May 16. The men fled south
across the desert toward the border with Djibouti, but two days
later, military police pursuing them found the bodies of five men
who had died of exposure. The fate of the other 10 Christians
Deposed by government order in January 2006, Eritrean Orthodox
Patriarch Abune Antonios remains under police guard in Asmara,
forbidden to leave his residence and now denied any visitors. His
unofficial successor, Abune Dioscoros, has yet to be recognized by
Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenoudah III in Cairo.
Since March, 65 leaders of the Medhane Alem renewal movement
within the Eritrean Orthodox Church have been openly threatened with
excommunication if they refuse to confess following “heretical”
Patriarch Antonios is believed to have fallen out of government
favor for protesting the March 2005 arrest of three Orthodox priests
active in this Sunday School movement.
The Department of Religious Affairs has refused to allow the
Anglican Church in Asmara to supply its own pulpit since October
2005, when the Rev. Nelson Fernandez was summarily ordered out of
the country. To the “expressed dismay” of the Anglican congregation,
one source said, control of the worship and activities of the church
has been handed over to the government-registered Lutheran Church.
Reports are circulating in Asmara that the government plans to
shut down the Anglican Elementary School in the near future.
“All the closed churches here are undergoing a great deal of
hardship and challenge to exist,” one source stated. Many of the
Protestant church leaders are in prison, and their Bibles and church
But despite ongoing arrests and surveillance, local evangelicals
told Compass they were “continuing to meet for worship, prayer and
Bible studies” in their homes. “Please pray for God’s protection,
especially when we meet for prayer,” one said. “All the churches are
in a desperate need of Bibles for their ministries.”
Since May 2002, the Eritrean government has banned all
independent religious groups not under the umbrella of the Orthodox,
Catholic, Lutheran or Muslim confessions.