Groups Protest Religious Repression in Eritrea

Several religious liberty organizations will be holding a peaceful demonstration tomorrow afternoon to protest the Eritrean government's repression of minority religious groups.

Several religious liberty organizations will be holding a peaceful demonstration tomorrow afternoon to protest the Eritrean government's repression of minority religious groups.

The demonstration outside the Embassy of Eritrea in Washington, DC will mark the third anniversary of the decision by Eritrea’s ruling party to require all religious groups to register with the government. Groups involved in the 12 p.m. rally include Release-Eritrea, Christian Solidarity World Wide (CSW), Christian Concern for Freedom of Conscience (CCFC), Jubilee Campaign USA, and Christian Solidarity International.

“We will be calling for the release of hundreds of Eritrean citizens arbitrarily detained and subjected to inhumane treatment for no reason other than the practice and expression of their religious faith,” Jubilee Campaign USA stated in its website.

According to Robert Turner, Coordinator of Government Relations for Jubilee Campaign USA, the purpose of the demonstration is “raise public awareness about the systematic abuse of religious freedom in Eritrea.”

“We are calling on the Eritrean Government to release all prisoners being held for strictly religious reasons, to make the registration process transparent and even-handed and to open the churches and other facilities that were shut down three years ago,” Turner said, according to a statement issued today. “These religious practitioners are not threats to national security, as the Government claims; they simply want to exercise their basic human right of worshiping freely and without fear of persecution. We join our voices with them as they make that very reasonable demand."

In May 2002, the Government closed, pending registration, all religious facilities not
affiliated with the four officially recognized religious groups—Sunni Islam, the Roman Catholic Church, the Eritrean Orthodox Church and the Evangelical Church of Eritrea.

Since then, hundreds of religious leaders and adherents of minority faiths have been arrested and detained without charge. Various reports estimate that from 200 to nearly 900 persons are currently imprisoned in Eritrea solely for the expression of their religious beliefs.

Also, no groups have been granted registration to date, although at least four groups have complied with all the Government’s requirements.

“Despite promises to complete the registration of churches the situation of church closures hasn’t improved a single bit since May 2002 on the other hand the reported number of Christian prisoners of conscience is at its highest ever,” said Release-Eritrea Director Berhane Asmelash in a statement made available by Christian Monitor. “We are calling for the unconditional release of all Christian prisoners of conscience and respect for religious freedom in Eritrea.”

According to Jubilee Campaign USA, sponsors of tomorrow’s demonstration note with concern reports from a variety of media sources that some prisoners, such as evangelical Christian leaders Kiflu Gebremeskel, Haile Naizghi and Tesfazion Hagos, are being held incommunicado without due process of law, and that others are not receiving necessary medical care.

“Reports indicate that the Rev. Dr. Tekleab Mengisteab, an insulin-dependent diabetic, has been hospitalized at least once because he was unable to obtain medication,” Jubilee Campaign USA reported. “Even during this critical time, however, his family was unable to contact him.”

Despite reports, the Government of Eritrea denies that anyone is detained for religious reason, claiming that all detainees are being held for reasons of national security and insisting that Eritrea is “an absolutely secular state” with complete religious freedom.

Amidst concern for hundreds of Christian prisoners of conscience, Release-Eritrea says tomorrow’s protestors are calling for:

• Unconditional release of all Christian prisoners of conscience including 16 Pastors and Church Leaders, who have been detained illegally by the Government of Eritrea.
• The opening of all Churches and associated organizations forcibly closed since May 2002.

In addition to the demonstration, representatives of the Eritrean community will also meet with a number of Senators, Members of Congress, State Department personnel and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, to express their concerns and seek support in getting the prisoners of conscience released.