Eritrea Continues Religious Crackdown, Arrests 31 Christians

Eritrean authorities have arrested another 31 Eritrean Christians in towns north of the capital Asmara over the past 10 days, news agencies and persecution watchdog groups reported yesterday. The latest police sweeps brings the total to 187 arrests for “illegal” Christian activities in Eritrea since the beginning of January.

In the most recent incident, 15 Christian women gathered in a private home for prayer were put under arrest last Saturday and jailed at the police station in Keren, Eritrea’s third-largest town 40 miles northwest of Asmara.

“All the sisters exposed to imprisonment and insult by the authorities in Keren were gathered merely for the purpose of prayer, not any political purpose,” one of their colleagues confirmed.

According to Compass News, no charges have been filed against them since their arrest, although relatives who inquired about them at the Keren police station were told the women were “engaged in activities that the government did not approve.” Local authorities are reportedly seeking informers to divulge details of any known meetings of evangelical believers, who are being described as “a threat to national security.”

On Feb. 4, fourteen members of the Kale Hiwot Church in Adi-Tekelzan, 20 miles north of Asmara, were apprehended during a Bible study at the home of their pastor, identified only as Brother Isak. All 14 were arrested by local police and at last report remained under detention at the town’s police station.

The previous day, Professor Senere Zaid of the agriculture faculty at Eritrea University was put under arrest in Asmara’s Police Station No. 4. Zaid was one of the revival leaders who eventually left the Kidane Mehrete Orthodox Church seven years ago over doctrinal differences. He and his congregation are now part of the Living God Church.

Since May 2002, the Eritrean government has closed down the country’s independent Protestant churches, declaring their places of worship illegal and forbidding home gatherings. The banned groups include Pentecostal and charismatic congregations, as well as Presbyterian, Assemblies of God and Methodist-linked churches.

Individuals and groups caught praying, studying the Bible or worshipping outside the umbrella of the country’s four recognized “official” religions (Orthodox Christianity, Catholicism, Lutheranism or Islam) continue to be jailed and tortured.

Despite detailed inquiries filed over the past two years by the U.S. State Department, Amnesty International and several European governments, Eritrea categorically denies that any violations of religious freedom are taking place within the country.