Eritrea "Burns" Bibles, "Detains" Christian Students

Thursday, October 16, 2008

By BosNewsLife Africa Service

ASMARA, ERITREA (BosNewsLife) -- Eritrean authorities confiscated and burned 1,500 Bibles from new high school students who arrived at country's main military training city, and detained eight students who protested the destruction of the books, Christians said Wednesday, October 15.

The eight male students protesting the Bible burning last month at the Sawa Defense Training Center (SDTC), near the Eritrean border with Sudan, were locked in a metal shipping container in temperatures exceeding 38 Celsius (100 Fahrenheid), said Christian Aid Mission (CAM), a group supporting native missionaries in Eritrea.

It said the detained young men were among students registering for the 2008-2009 school year at the controvesial training facilities. "All Eritrea high school students are required to attend SDTC to finish grades 11 and 12. Though technically only required to attend for two years, many youth have been forced to remain for up to 10 years. Only Muslim girls are exempt from this service, CAM said.

The group suggested that putting students in metal shipping containers was part of a wider attempt to destroy Christianity in the country. "Eritrean believers report that more than 4,000 evangelical Christians are currently being detained incommunicado in remote army camps," CAM said, although other reports speak of over 2,000 Christians. Detainees are reportedly tortured.

"The most common forms of torture involve prolonged sun exposure in temperatures up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 Celsius), intense beatings or binding of the hands, elbows and feet for extended periods," said CAM. Those observations have also been reported by several human rights groups as well as the United States State Department.


The State Department has also said in other reports that, "some of the detainees had reportedly been rolled around in oil drums, abused by fellow prisoners and the women sexually abused."

Eritrea's government has denied it targets innocent Christians and has described as "scandalous" and "unreliable" reports of torture. It has said however that "new extremist groups whether Christian or Muslim must abide by the laws of our country" and that it will target them.

Since 2002, the Eritrean government only recognizes four religious groups, including Muslims, who comprise some 50 percent of the population, as well as traditional churches, Orthodox, Catholic, and Lutheran churches, although even there church officials have reported growing state pressure.

Despite the difficulties, Christians have reported church growth. "The church in Eritrea is doing great, by God's grace, in spite of terrible persecution. God is working mightily; the church is growing, and that's why the devil is afraid and trying to destroy it," said an Eritrean church elder, who was forced into exile, in a statement distributed by CAM.


"The government has special task forces to hunt Christians from their offices, homes, from under-ground and on the street. Their aim is to eradicate Christianity from the country by killing believers, beating them into death in front of their peers," the elder was quoted as saying.

"My closest Christian brothers and sisters with whom I have prayed, fasted and ministered are in prison for four years, leaving behind their families. Many infants and children are left behind, bringing temptation for them, as the government demands that they denounce their faith," the Christian added.

The source said he was "one of the elders of the church in Eritrea" and is "still coordinating things" to help them."We have seen God's servants serving faithfully, sharing their time and all they have, as they teach and preach the Gospel." At least one evangelist has continued evangelizing in Christian, despite death threats, BosNewsLife reported last month.


Teame Weldegebriel has been imprisoned since 2006 reportedly told friends that he may die soon as he receives harsh prison treatment because of his evangelistic activities among fellow inmates. He languishes at the Mai Sirwa Maximum Security Confinement prison where many inmates have become Christians because of his activities, Christians said.

"It seems that hell has broken loose on me. Please tell the brethren to continue praying for me. I am not sure I will see them again," the evangelist said in published remarks. Citing ongoing religious and political persecution and decades of war and drought, over one million Eritreans have evacuated the troubled nation and are living throughout Africa, America, Europe and Arab countries. Some 10,000 of these refugees are Christians, according to CAM estimates.

"Underground church leaders have extremely limited resources to meet the material and spiritual needs of believers suffering under persecution. However, Christian Aid is in communication with native Eritrean believers who can provide funds to those in desperate need," the group said. (With BosNewsLife's Chief International Correspondent Stefan J. Bos).

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