Eritrea Jails 16 for Watching Home Video

Monday, March 21, 2005

U.S. Touts Diplomatic Progress on Religious Freedom Issues

Special to Compass Direct

LOS ANGELES, March 18 (Compass) -- Last Sunday evening, Eritrean security police arrested 16 Protestants for watching a Christian video together in a church member’s home in the town of Adi-Kibe.

Although the group of evangelical Christians gathered on March 13 were not engaged in singing, praying or teaching activities, the 16 members of Kale Hiwot Church were all arrested and put under custody at the local police station.

On Monday, two older women in the group were released after paying fines of 150 nakfa (approximately $12) each and listening to “severe admonitions” from local security police, according to sources.

The other 14 remain jailed at the Adi-Kibe police station although no official charges have been filed against them.

News of this latest arrest came just as the Bush administration requested the U.S. Congress to extend a six-month deadline against Eritrea, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia which expired March 15.

As one of three new countries added to the U.S. State Department’s list of “countries of particular concern” last September 15 for its flagrant violations of religious freedom, Eritrea is required to demonstrate its commitment to tolerance of all religions or face statutory sanctions.

“We’ve been actively engaged with all three in working for improvements in respect for religious freedom in those countries,” State Department spokesman Adam Ereli told reporters March 15. “We’ve made some important progress.”

Although Ereli gave no specifics, he stated, “We are close to arrangements that respond to issues raised in the report.” He indicated that he expected “decisions to be finalized and announced in the next few weeks.”

The small northeast Africa nation has publicly denied ever-increasing reports over the past three years of a harsh, government-instituted crackdown against members of its independent Protestant churches.

All places of worship not linked with the country’s four officially recognized religions (Orthodox Christian, Catholic, Lutheran and Muslim) were ruled illegal by presidential decree in May 2002, with their adherents forbidden to worship in their homes.

Three prominent Protestant pastors have been held incommunicado since their arrest 10 months ago, with the Eritrean government refusing to file charges against them or bring them to court.

During the first 10 weeks of this year alone, a total of 230 Christians have been subjected to police arrest and imprisonment in 10 separate incidents confirmed in Asmara, Barentu, Adi-Tekelzan, Keren, and now Adi-Kibe.

Arrested Professor Released on Bail

Meanwhile, Compass has confirmed that nearly a month after his arrest, Prof. Senere Zaid was released by security police authorities and allowed to return home to his wife and children on February 28.

A member of the Living God Church in Asmara, Zaid was arrested on February 3 after police discovered his name on the rental contract of a facility for worship used by the Kidane Mehrete revival group.

Zaid was released on bail, reportedly under severe warnings if he participated in any more evangelical Christian activities in the future. No terms of the bail were known, nor whether any charges have been filed against him.

An agriculture professor at Asmara’s Eritrea University where he specializes in erosion and soil and water conservation, Zaid is completing his Ph.D. studies at the University of Wageningen in Holland.