Eritrea Jails 18 More Evangelical Christians

Monday, November 25, 2002

Local Protestants Confirm 334 Members in Prison
Special to Compass Direct

LOS ANGELES, November 25 (Compass) -- Eritrean police arrested and jailed another Protestant evangelical pastor on Sunday, taking him and seven of his church members to prison.

Pastor Iyob of the Kale Hiwot Church was arrested off the street about 10:30 on the morning of November 23 in Mendefera, a market town about 30 miles south of the capital Asmara.

In separate arrests the same day, seven of his church members, four men and three women, were taken into custody. Friends of the jailed Christians have not yet been able to confirm the alleged charges against the pastor and his church members.

“But the police are treating them like criminals,” local sources reported. “They are in prison only because of their faith.”

A second new arrest of 10 young women from various Pentecostal churches has also been confirmed this week. The women are incarcerated at Sawa, a military training camp in the mountains near the Sudanese border, where they were presumed to be doing their compulsory military service.

Six of the 62 young people locked into metal containers at Sawa this past summer for having Bibles are believed to still be jailed in underground isolation cells at this same camp.

Meanwhile, Compass has confirmed the release earlier this month of two women jailed for the past 21 months in the Assab military prison. Both women had been serving as nursing personnel in the Eritrean armed forces when they were arrested for their involvement in banned meetings for evangelical worship.

Fourteen other women soldiers, along with 63 men, are still being held at Assab, where authorities have used torture, isolation and cruel threats to try to force them to retract their evangelical beliefs.

According to lists compiled by local Protestants, currently at least 334 evangelical believers are imprisoned for their religious beliefs in nine known locations across Eritrea.

While some were arrested by police during meetings for worship in either unrecognized church buildings or private homes, others were accused of possessing Bibles or refusing to return to membership in the dominant Eritrean Orthodox Church.

Last month, military officials evicted the Full Gospel Church from its rented facilities in Asmara, leaving the 4,000-strong congregation without a place to worship. Since the premises were sealed on October 26, soldiers have occupied the complex of buildings and refused church members admission.

The Eritrean government has targeted the country’s 12 independent Pentecostal and charismatic churches since May 2002, when all were ordered to close their churches and stop meeting for worship, even in private homes. Only the Orthodox, Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran and Muslim faiths are recognized as “official” religions.