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Eritrea: Religious Persecution Still Persists, New Report Says PDF Print E-mail
Written by AllAfrica.com   
Saturday, 17 January 2009 14:12

In less than two decades of independence, President Isaias Afewerki has established a totalitarian grip on Eritrea, forcing increasing numbers of citizens to flee to neighboring countries and beyond.

And religious organizations are not spared, according to Human Rights Watch's World Report 2009 which was released on Wednesday.

The government permits members of only Orthodox Christian, Catholic, and Lutheran churches and traditional Islam. Over 3,000 members of unregistered churches are incarcerated. Many are beaten and otherwise abused to compel them to renounce their faiths.

But even the "recognized" religious groups have not been spared. In 2006 the government removed the 81-year-old patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church after he refused to interfere with a renewal movement within the church. He has been in solitary confinement since May 2007. In 2008 the regime revoked the exemption from military service of most Orthodox priests.

The government has also interfered with the Catholic Church, taking over church schools, health clinics, and other social service facilities. Since November 2007 it has expelled at least 14 foreign Catholic missionaries by refusing to extend their residency permits.

President Isayas's government controls all levers of power: political, economic, social, journalistic, and religious, the HRW report says. A constitution approved by referendum in 1997 remains unimplemented. No national election has ever been held, and an interim parliament has not met since 2002. The judiciary exists only as an instrument of control.

The press is entirely government-owned. No private civil society organizations are sanctioned; all are arms of the government or the sole political party, the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ). International human rights organizations are denied entry.

Isayas uses Ethiopia's failure to permit demarcation of the border with Eritrea as the excuse to justify his repressive rule, claiming that the country must remain on a war footing. In 2008 he said that elections will not be held for decades because they polarize society "vertically." He declared he will remain in full control until Eritrea is secure, "as long as it takes."

Dissent in any form has been ruthlessly suppressed since 11 PFDJ leaders were arrested in September 2001 for questioning the president's leadership. Detention conditions are harsh. There are generally no trials or terms of confinement. Torture is common.

Under a 1995 decree, all men between ages 18 and 50, and women between 18 and 27, must serve 18 months of military service. In fact, men serve indefinitely. In 2008 the World Bank estimated that 320,000 Eritreans are in the military.

Eritreans flee the country by the thousands despite "shoot-to-kill" orders for anyone caught crossing the border. A camp in northern Ethiopia became so cramped in 2008 that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees opened two new camps to accommodate new arrivals.


Last Updated on Saturday, 17 January 2009 14:14
Comments (1)
1 Sunday, 18 January 2009 08:13
A very good piece of description

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