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Eritrean Task Force aims to purge country of Christians

19/02/2005 10:06 AM

ERITREAN TASK FORCE AIMS TO PURGE COUNTRY OF CHRISTIANS

In the wake of the arrest of 31 more Christians in Eritrea, evidence is emerging of a Task Force dedicated to ridding the country of targeted Christian denominations.

According to Compass Direct news agency, another 31 Eritrean Christians have been jailed over the past ten days, making a total of 187 arrests for ‘illegal’ Christian activities since the beginning of the year.

In 2002 the Eritrean government ordered the closure of all churches that were not affiliated with the Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran denominations. According to reliable reports, the regime has now formed a Task Force to eradicate Pentecostal and Evangelical Christians from Eritreaby the end of 2005.

CSW has also received reports which indicate that people from the capital Asmara were told to inform the police and their local administration offices about any Christians and houses where ‘menfesawyan’ (spiritual people) come together so they could be arrested. Hotels and halls are now banned from renting their premises to these Christians and many have had their property confiscated and been heavily fined. Moreover, in certain areas, landlords are forbidden from letting their properties to Christians from ‘forbidden ‘denominations.

14 members of the KaleHiwotChurchin Adi-Tekelzan, 20 miles north of Asmara, were taken into custody on February 4 during a Bible study at the home of their pastor. They were last known to be at the town’s police station.

The day before, Professor Senere Zaid of the Agriculture Faculty at EritreaUniversitywas arrested in Asmara. Local police officials had mounted a two-week search for him after finding his name on the rental contract of a building used for worship by the Kidane Mehrete revival group.

After a foiled police raid on one of their meeting places, Professor Zaid hid to avoid being arrested and had not been present at the targeted gathering, which had broken up before the police arrived.

When Professor Zaid decided to turn himself in to police commanders on February 3, he was promptly jailed at an Asmarapolice station. Professor Zaid is married with two young children.

A reliable witness said: “Senere’s only “crime” is his determination to worship Jesus Christ according to his conscience…We have a nation without a responsible regime and university officials and teachers who keep silent while their colleagues suffer.”

He added: “Not only traditional religious leaders, intellectuals and businessmen inside Eritreaare keeping quiet, but also believers outside Eritrea. May God forgive us for our silence and may God protect our brothers and sisters inside the prisons of Eritrea. The wider family members of these believers are also suffering. Especially wives and children are left behind without any form of income and support.”

On February 12, 15 Christian women that had gathered in a private home for prayer were arrested and jailed at the police station in Keren, Eritrea’s third-largest town 40 miles northwest of Asmara. Local authorities reportedly described the evangelical believers as “a threat to national security.”

However, “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.

Meanwhile, Compass has documented the arrest of a medical doctor during the last week of January. Dr Segid was arrested in Keren during the last week of January. The physician has now been transferred to military confinement at the Mai-Serwa military camp.

There are believed to have been dozens more arrested and imprisoned during their national service in the Eritrean army since the new year. Several hundred more evangelical Protestant believers, many of them soldiers caught worshipping during their active military service, also remain imprisoned for refusing to recant their faith.

One person who was arrested at the start of the year, five kilometres outside Asmara, said they were forced to walk barefoot to cargo containers: “In Mai Serwa they put us (around 30 believers) into a small container. We actually couldn’t breathe and we thought we are going to die of suffocation. At that moment we shouted and called the guards and begged them to open the container so that we could breathe. The guards replied: “Those responsible with the key have left for Asmaraso keep quiet until they come back tomorrow.” In the morning they opened the door but all of us lied fainted. We had no power even to utter words. But God saved us and I am here among you to witness this horrible deed.”

Eritrean church leader Dr Berhane Asmelash, who now lives in exile in the UK, said: “The situation is getting worse and worse and the government is collecting people from weddings, from their houses and from the streets if they are Christians.

“We call on the international community to intervene in a situation which I find difficult to put into words.”

Stuart Windsor, National Director of CSW, said: “These purges which are being carried out against Christians in Eritreaare extremely disturbing. Reports of a Task Force dedicated to this carry alarming resonances with the persecution of Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. CSW joins with Eritrean Christians in pleading with the international community to speak up on their behalf before it is too late.”

For more information, please contact Richard Chilvers, Communications Manager at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on http://www.csw.org.uk

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There is a website for the Eritrean embassy in London with details of the Australian embassy if you want to register your concern with them.

The details are Ambassador: His Excellency Mr Asmeron Abraha Ma’ Ashio 16 Bulwarra Close O’Malley ACT 2606

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