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(World Watch List) The Eritrean government has released on bail more than 20 prisoners who’d been in detention for years because of their faith, the BBC reports.
It says sources have said that the prisoners are from Christian evangelical and Pentecostal denominations, some held in a prison outside the capital Asmara.
In 2002 Eritrea introduced a new law that forbids all Churches except for the Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran ones. Sunni Islam is also officially recognized.
According to a religious freedom campaigner from Asmara, but now based in North America, Hannibal Daniel, people who’d been in prison for about 16 years have been freed on bail.
A regional spokesperson for charity Open Doors International said that, for some time, it had heard discussion that prisoners might be freed on bail due to the coronavirus pandemic (as has happened in several other countries) but could not independently confirm the reports: “If true, this could be quite significant.”
The Eritrean government has not responded to BBC requests for confirmation or denial. Previously, it’s dismissed accusations of intolerance to religious freedom.
In May 2019, a monitoring group for the UN said “thousands” of Christians are facing detention as “religious freedom continue[s] to be denied in Eritrea” and questioned why the UN was not monitoring the situation more closely.
In June 2019, Thomson Reuters reported that more than 500,000 refugees worldwide have left Eritrea, up from 486,200 a year earlier.
Many flee compulsory military service, but others flee political or religious persecution.
That same month, the government seized all Catholic-run health clinics in the country, and arrested five Orthodox priests. These moves prompted the UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Eritrea, Daniela Kravetz, to call on the government to uphold religious freedom for its citizens and “release those who have been imprisoned for their religious beliefs.”
In August 2019, Eritrea’s Orthodox patriarch, Abune Antonios, was expelled by pro-government bishops of his Church, accused of heresy; he remained in detention throughout 2019.
Antonios had been under house arrest since 2007, when he refused to comply with the regime’s attempts to interfere with church affairs.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom says Eritrea is a ‘Country of Particular Concern’, saying “In 2019, religious freedom conditions in Eritrea worsened, with increasing interference in and restrictions on religious groups. In spite of the significant regional political changes and the 2018 peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia, Eritrea continues to have one of the worst religious freedom records in the world, and has shown little interest in concretely improving the situation”. The State Department estimates there are between 1200 and 3000 prisoners held for their faith. USCIRF included some of those cases in its new Victims List.
Some prisoners, such as the leader of the Full Gospel Church, have been in prison for more than 15 years.
A year, ago, 70 Christians detained included 35 women and 10 children
At least 150 Eritrean Christians were arrested by government officials during summer 2019, with some held in an underground prison made up of tunnels.
For instance on 18 August, 2019, Eritrean security officials detained 80 Christians from Godayef, an area near Asmara airport.
Four days later, on 22 August, the United Nations observed its first annual commemoration of victims of religiously motivated violence. “On this day, we reaffirm our unwavering support for the victims of violence based on religion and belief. And we demonstrate that support by doing all in our power to prevent such attacks and demanding that those responsible are held accountable,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
The government’s 2019 clampdown on evangelical Christians had begun in June 2019 when security officials arrested 70 members (among them 35 women and 10 children) of the Faith Mission Church of Christ, in Eritrea’s second city, Keren. These were taken to Ashufera prison, 25kms from the city.
The prison is a vast underground tunnel system and conditions in which detainees are held are very harsh, a local source said. It’s far from a main road, the source said, which “means that anyone who wants to visit has to walk a minimum of 30 minutes to reach the entrance.
Inmates are forced to dig additional tunnels when officers need extra space for more prisoners.”
After the 2019 arrests, government officials also closed the church-run school, said the local source, whose identity World Watch Monitor withheld for security reasons.
The Faith Mission Church of Christ was the last church still open in the majority-Muslim city, 90kms northwest of Asmara. Started over 60 years ago, the Church once had schools and orphanages all over the country, according to religious freedom advocacy group CSW.
It had been waiting for registration since it submitted an application in 2002 when the government introduced the new law. This clampdown sent other Christians in Keren into hiding, the source said.
Eritrea is 6th on the Open Doors 2020 World Watch List of the 50 countries in which it is most difficult to live as a Christian.
(World Watch Monitor) Eritrea’s Orthodox patriarch, Abune Antonios, who was placed under house arrest by the government in 2007, has been expelled by pro-government bishops in his church on accusations of heresy, the BBC reported.
The attempt to excommunicate is widely seen as symptomatic of Eritrea’s government push for more political control over the Eritrean Orthodox Church (EOC).
The announcement came one day after Eritrea’s Christian gospel singer Helen Berhane, who was imprisoned for her faith, raised the issue of religious persecution and the plight of the 90-year-old church leader with US President Donald Trump during the 2nd Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom and Belief last month in Washington.
Our Helen Berhane, the gospel singer #Eritrea, with #PresidentTrump raising the issue of religious persecution in the country and on the fate of Abune Antonios, a day before his excommunication by the regime #Yiakl #Kifaya pic.twitter.com/NJshycrJhM
— Mohamed Kheir Omer (@mkheirom) July 20, 2019
Patriarch Abune Antonios was removed by the Asmara government and placed under house arrest in 2007 after he refused to comply with the regime’s attempts to interfere with church affairs. The event led to a schism in the EOC with a pro-government group supporting a new government-approved replacement who was not recognised by the Papacy in Egypt who installed the patriarch and his predecessors, as reported by ICN.
Following international pressure Antonios made a first public appearance in 2017 as he participated in a mass which rights called a “marketing exercise” by the government.
He remained under house arrest but in April filmed a video that was broadcast in which he reportedly talked about his circumstances and criticised the fact the Church was being led by a layman. The patriarch, who is suffering from health problems, allegedly also said his fellow clergy did not care for his wellbeing. He is currently staying in servant’s quarters of the house owned by the pro-government Bishop Lukas, who himself has ambitions to become the next patriarch, said ICN.
Apparently referring to the video, the pro-government bishops said in a letter explaining their decision to expel the church’s legitimate leader, it was ‘recent activities’ by Abune Antonios that had raised questions about the sincerity of his repentance and that they were concerned about the growing risk of heresy in the church. They did, however, say they would continue to provide the patriarch with food and a place to stay.
In May, a monitoring group for the UN said “thousands” of Christians are facing detention as “religious freedom continue[s] to be denied in Eritrea” and questioned why the UN was not monitoring the situation more closely.
Eritrea is 7th on Open Doors International’s 2019 World Watch List of the 50 countries in which it is most difficult to live as a Christian.
What Iraq’s Christians want from the West is to say the plain truth: that there is ethnic cleansing of Christians in the region and it is ongoing, Dr Tim Stanley told a meeting at the UK’s parliament last Tuesday, 9 July.
“If we don’t say what is really happening in the region, which is ethnic cleansing of both Christians and Yazidis, we allow Islamic State and other perpetrators to get away with it,” Stanley told the audience at the event, ‘The Global Persecution of Christian Minorities’, organised by the Henry Jackson Society, a British foreign-policy think tank.
Since Islamic State was pushed out of the region, displaced Iraqis have slowly started to return to their communities but continue to live in fear and they continue to be vulnerable. Pockets of IS fighters are still active and the group has said it started the fires that in recent weeks torched hundreds of acres of land and crops, “owned by infidels”, in northern Iraq.
Meanwhile, Iranian-backed militias have moved into areas previously under IS-control, discouraging people to trade with Christians, Stanley said.
In January, a UN team started investigations in the country to collect evidence of genocide and war crimes committed by Islamic State fighters, in order to take the perpetrators to court in Iraq. The UN has been reluctant to recognise the violence against Christians and Yazidis as genocide, despite pressure from civil society groups and some of its own member states such as the Netherlands.
‘Instruments of the West’
Those who have returned to their communities and want to leave, face challenges such as the western visa application processes, according to Stanley.
The US, under the Trump administration, has taken fewer Iraqi refugees in than it did during the Obama administration. Instead, it sent an aid package of US$35 million to the region to support Iraqi Christians and Yazidis who had suffered under IS occupation. The UK also has been slow on the uptake.
Stanley acknowledged that it’s not always a simple matter of putting pressure on governments to treat Christians fairly. Christians often are considered to be instruments of Western governments, and as such are regarded as a threat to national identity or security. The challenge, then, is to help Christians without exposing them to undue risk, he said.
For the UK government, this could mean including the topic of religious freedom in future trade negotiations, said Dr Matthew Rees, Head of Advocacy for Open Doors UK and Ireland. It is one of the policy recommendations the Christian religious-freedom charity has made to the country’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the back of an independent review of how the government department supports persecuted Christians.
“Just like climate change, the topic of religious freedom is not a one-party or single-leader issue but something to grow consensus around”, Rees said.
The official end of the war with Ethiopia has not stopped the exodus and people still flee from Eritrea. Boys and girls run away from an oppressive regime and from a very poor society that does not offer job opportunities. Abba Mussie Zerai, a priest of the eparchy of Asmara, wrote an open letter in which he criticizes the ruling class of his Country, asking to keep the attention alive: “The regime in Asmara – he says in the letter sent to Agenzia Fides is one of the world’s toughest political regime, a dictatorship that suppressed all forms of liberty, annulled the 1997 constitution, suppressed the magistracy, militarized the entire population. A dictatorship that, in a word, has created a State-prison. The numerous, detailed reports published by various international institutions and organizations and by the most prestigious NGOs and humanitarian associations have denounced this situation for twenty years. Also the two final reports of the investigations conducted by the UN Commission on Human Rights, clearly states that the regime has elected terror, making its own people slaves. Not surprisingly, in the 2016 report, we come to the conclusion that there are well-founded elements to refer the main leaders of the Government to the International Criminal Court”.
In recent years many Eritreans have fled. A substantial part stopped in Ethiopia, which currently houses 175 thousand, and in Sudan, which has welcomed 110 thousand. But many are heading north. Once they arrive in Italy they move to Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States.
Many Eritreans die during the journey. The accident that symbolizes this tragedy is the shipwreck that took place on October 3, 2013, when more than 300 people died. “As Eritrean – observes Abba Mussie – I ask to bring the bodies of the victims of the massacre Lampedusa back to Eritrea and of all the other young refugees who drowned in the Mediterranean and are buried in Italy. It is time to overcome controversies, in the name of a human principle of great significance: to give families a place to pray for their loved ones”.
In this context, the regime does not loosen its grip on the population: dozens of political prisoners are still detained in prisons, international commissions can not enter prisons and any form of freedom, starting with politics and religion, is not guaranteed. “Even recently – continues Abba Mussie – opponents have been arrested, Catholic and Islamic schools have been closed, eight medical centers and Catholic hospitals have been barred, while the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church Abune Antonios, stopped in 2004, is still under arrest after 14 years”. And, launching an appeal to the international community, the priest concludes: “One can pretend to close one’s eyes to reality in the name of geostrategic and economic interests. Or one can give voice and content with force to the values of freedom, democracy, justice, solidarity”. source: Fides
Eritrea ranked 6th on Open Doors 2018 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most dangerous to follow Jesus.
Johnathan Cahn has spoken at the UN and called for action against the Christian Holocaust, and he brings the point that we have repeatedly said. If we sit silently and say nothing we will be judged for our inaction. Where is the international outcry for the Christian Holocaust? A must see video.
Jonathan Cahn speaks at the United Nation’s Economic Social Chamber about global Christian persecution.
This should be a concern for all Christian leaders. The people of Pakistan are attempting to speak out against a strict code of Sharia law that demands freedom of religion be abolished. Many are held in prison in Pakistan awaiting a death sentence for merely believing in Christ. The lawyers and those helping face immeasurable anguish facing death, and in some cases as the lawyer Rashid Rehman have been executed. The Human Rights Violations in Pakistan alone are horrendous. With the corruption of the police you can be arrested for merely drinking from a well labeled for Muslim only. This is unconcionable in today’s world. Here is an excerpt from the preamble of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights :
- Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
- Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,
It raises questions. So why is the UN unable to enforce this. Why do the governing bodies of the UN remain silent on these abuses?
Faisalabad ( Agenzia Fides) – The government needs to urgently amend the blasphemy law, which has become “a deadly weapon” for human right defenders, journalists, moderate Muslims, members of religious minorities and other innocent people: this is what many civil society organizations, mainly composed of Pakistani Muslims who took to the streets in recent days in Faisalabad ask for. As Fides learns, the impressive demonstration was organized in the aftermath of the brutal murder of the lawyer, Rashid Rehman, coordinator for the Punjab office of the NGO “Human Rights Commission of Pakistan”.
“The government should take concrete measures and introduce a mechanism that controls and punishes fundamentalists, who have destroyed peace and social harmony, blindly abusing this law and killing innocent people”, said the participants, gathered in the center of city on May 8.
As reported to Fides, all leaders have condemned the murder, expressing grief over the great loss of a courageous defender of human rights, wearing blacks ribbons as a sign of mourning and chanting slogans against terrorism. There is a unanimous request to put an end to the abuse of the blasphemy law and to restore peace in society.
The Muslim Nazia Sardar, leader of the NGO “Awam” (Association of Women for Awareness and Motivation), one of the organizers of the demonstrators, recalled Rashid Rehman as “a man who raised his voice for the protection of human rights and that we will follow as a model”. Political activist Arif Ayaz, who is also a Muslim, said: “Many innocent people have been killed since the blasphemy law has been in force. The assassination of Rashid Rehman demonstrates the failure of the government to protect its citizens. The government needs to reform the blasphemy law and promote a transparent judicial system”. The director of “National Minorities Alliance Pakistan”, Robin Denial, concluded: “Extremists are trying to scare and challenge the work of human right defenders like Rehman. But his blood will generate many new human right defenders in Pakistan”. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 12/05/2014)