By Stefan J. Bos, Special Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) - Dozens of Christians have been detained in Eritrea in the latest government crackdown on devoted believers, advocacy representatives said Friday.
Rights activists told Worthy News that 45 people were taken into custody at Christian gatherings in Eritrea’s capital city, Asmara, in April and June alone.
Some 15 Christians were reportedly arrested as they attended a worship service in a home in the Mai Chehot area of Asmara in April. “They were initially detained in a local police station for several days. Before being transported to Mai Serwa Prison, which is infamous for its inhumane conditions, “ confirmed rights organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
The second group of 30 people, which included some non-Christians, was reportedly arrested at the wedding of a Christian couple during the last week of June.
This group was reportedly taken to the Second Police Station, known locally as Kalai Medeber, according to Christians familiar with the situation.
Authorities are due to defend the crackdown saying those detained were arrested for breaking coronavirus restrictions. But Christians called the reaction heavy-handed.
CSW also expressed concern that the detentions come “amidst increasing concerns about the potentially deadly impact of any outbreak” of the coronavirus disease COVID-19 “in Eritrea’s extensive and overcrowded” prison system.
“Tens of thousands of Eritreans are currently detained without charge or trial in life-threatening conditions in more than 300 sites across the country. Among those incarcerated are prisoners of conscience, some of whom have been detained for decades on account of their political views or religious beliefs,” the group added.
“Conditions in these facilities are unsanitary and unsatisfactory. Detention facilities include shipping containers, underground cells, and the open air in the desert, and access to medical attention is insufficient and often withheld as punishment.”
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “It is clear that the Eritrean government views the COVID-19 lockdown as a means of increasing its already pervasive control of society. Instead of supporting its citizens during this difficult time, it is extorting their finances, reportedly preventing the flow of food to malnourished communities”.
Thomas noted that authorities “even closed down health facilities in the Southern Red Sea region. These closures, along with the 2019 seizures of Catholic healthcare centers, have deprived the most vulnerable of access to medical assistance during an unprecedented global pandemic.”
He has also demanded “the immediate and unconditional release. of every prisoner of conscience, and low-risk and vulnerable detainees in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Thomas said CSW had urged the United Nations Human Rights Council “to ensure continued monitoring of the country’s deteriorating human rights crisis by renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea.”
President Isaias Afwerki has governed the Eastern African nation with an iron fist since it became an independent country in 1993.
His People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDF) is the sole political party. Presidential elections scheduled for 1997 never happened while a constitution ratified in the same year has never been implemented.
Under his rule, Eritrea’s government banned groups seen as a threat to his power base. Those forbidden to gather are people not affiliated with the Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran, or Orthodox Christian denominations and Sunni Islam.
Christians claim authorities have launched a campaign of arrests targeting unapproved denominations and groups in the Eastern African nation of 6-million people.
Additionally, Christian converts from a Muslim background or an Orthodox background reportedly face harsh mistreatment from their families and communities.