FEARS of a crackdown on Christianity in Eritrea are rising, after churches have been raided, Roman Catholic activities halted, and Christians arrested.
Last month, a gathering of the Faith Missions Church in Keren, the country’s second largest city, was raided by police. Among those arrested was an entire family and a pregnant woman, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported.
Also last month, all the health centres in the country run by the Roman Catholic Church were shut down, prompting fears of systemic persecution.
In a letter, the country’s four RC bishops said that staff were removed from the more than 20 RC health centres, patients were ordered to go home, and soldiers were deployed to guard the centres.
The bishops said that the confiscation of the Church’s properties were a potential violation of the Church’s religious rights.
The letter read: “The government can say it doesn’t want the services of the Church, but asking for the property is not right.”
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Daniela Kravetz, said: “These actions show that, despite the improved regional climate for peace and security, the human-rights situation in Eritrea remains unchanged.”
Last month, five Orthodox priests from the Debre Bizen Monastery were arrested, CSW said. Abba Kebreab Tekie, Abba Markos Ghebrekidan, Abba Ghebretensae Teweldemedhin, Abba Kidanemaryam Tekeste, and Abba Ghebretensai Zemichael were arrested, reportedly for supporting the deposed Eritrean Orthodox Patriarch, Abune Antonios, and for protesting against government interference in the Church.
Since 2002, all religious practices not affiliated with the Roman Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran, or Orthodox Christian denominations, and Sunni Islam, have been effectively outlawed, owing to a registration policy.
According to reports, there were two separate incidents in May: in the first, about 30 Christians were arrested; and, in the second, 141.
The chief executive of CSW, Mervyn Thomas, said last week: “CSW is deeply concerned by this latest development in a crackdown on people of faith in Eritrea, that has been ongoing since 2002.
“We call for the immediate and unconditional release of all members of Faith Missions Church, as well as all other prisoners of conscience in the country. It is essential that UN member states seize the opportunity presented during next week’s interactive dialogue at the HRC [Human Rights Council] to raise these concerns.
“We also urge member states to support and facilitate the renewal of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate in order to ensure continued monitoring of the dire human-rights situation in Eritrea.”