By BosNewsLife News Center
ASMARA, ERITREA (BosNewsLife) -- There was international concern late Friday, May 4, about the plight of a key Christian leader and about 80 other evangelicals, including foreign nationals, who were reportedly detained in Eritrea's capital Asmara where government security forces raided the Presbyterian Mehret Yesus Church.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) and other human rights groups told BosNewsLife that the leader of the church, Reverend Zecharias Abraham, had been serving as head of the Eritrean Evangelical Alliance, since the arrest of the previous leader, Haile Naizgi, in May 2004. At least three American citizens were also reportedly amongst those detained.
"The Mehret Yesus Church was one of the few churches allowed to function after the government decreed the closure of all churches not belonging to the Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran denominations in 2002," said CSW.
â€œThe closure of a church that had previously been free to operate constitutes a further illustration of the Eritrean governmentâ€™s determination to control all aspects of society, including religious activity," CSW Worldwideâ€™s Advocacy Director Tina Lambert said in a statement to BosNewsLife.
"Once again they have targeted one of the countryâ€™s prominent Christian leaders, seemingly considering them a threat to their authority." The April 29 raid during a Sunday worship service , details of which only emerged Friday, May 4, followed what rights watchers described as "a renewed government crackdown on Christian activity" in Eritrea since early this year.
Nearly 70 Christians were reportedly detained in January alone and more recently the government appointed a new Patriarch of the Orthodox Church following what CSW described as "the unlawful dismissal of the consecrated Patriarch, Abune Antonios." Patriarch Antonios remained under house arrest Friday, May 4.
In addition, Eritrean Christians living in exile have reported harassment from Eritrean government supporters. Threats sent recently by email told the recipient to â€œwatch her backâ€ as she would soon be attacked â€œon the streets of Londonâ€ by members of the ruling partyâ€™s youth wing, said CSW, which is in close contacts with Eritrean Christians.
Lambert said it is "concerning that their threats are now reaching those who have supposedly found refuge in other countries. The international community must not continue to sit back while the Eritrean Government continues to disregard the rights of their people.â€
In published remarks, Berhane Asmelash, a representative of advocacy group Release Eritrea said the latest developments "confirms the anti religion and anti Christianity stance of the Government of Eritrea."
The Eritrean government has denied any wrongdoing saying it says it wants to protect the country against dangerous sects. Human rights groups say about 2,000 Christians have been detained across Eastern African nation, in some cases even in shipping containers. (With reports from Eritrea).
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