Eritrea Jails another 31 Christians

Thursday, March 10, 2005

University professor, medical doctor are among new prisoners.

Special to Compass Direct

LOS ANGELES, February 16 (Compass) -- Another 31 Eritrean Christians have been jailed by police in towns north of the capital Asmara over the past 10 days. The latest police sweeps brings the total to 187 arrests for “illegal” Christian activities in Eritrea since the beginning of January.

Fourteen members of the Kale Hiwot Church in Adi-Tekelzan, 20 miles north of Asmara, were apprehended February 4 during a Bible study at the home of their pastor, identified only as Brother Isak. All 14 were arrested by local police and at last report remained under detention at the town’s police station.

The previous day, Professor Senere Zaid of the agriculture faculty at Eritrea University was put under arrest in Asmara’s Police Station No. 4. Local police officials had mounted a two-week search for Zaid, after finding his name on the rental contract of a facility used for worship by the Kidane Mehrete revival group.

Zaid was one of the revival leaders who eventually left the Kidane Mehrete Orthodox Church seven years ago over doctrinal differences. He and his congregation are now part of the Living God Church.

After a foiled police raid on one of their meeting places, Zaid hid to avoid being arrested. The professor had not been present at the targeted gathering, which had broken up before the police arrived. But authorities soon discovered that the facility was rented in Zaid’s name.

When Zaid decided to turn himself in to police commanders on February 3, he was promptly jailed at an Asmara police station. Zaid is married with two young children.

Last Saturday, 15 Christian women gathered in a private home for prayer were put under arrest and jailed at the police station in Keren, Eritrea’s third-largest town 40 miles northwest of Asmara.

“All the sisters exposed to imprisonment and insult by the authorities in Keren were gathered merely for the purpose of prayer, not any political purpose,” one of their colleagues confirmed.

No charges have been filed against them since their February 12 arrest, although relatives who inquired about them at the Keren police station were told the women were “engaged in activities that the government did not approve.” Local authorities are reportedly seeking informers to divulge details of any known meetings of evangelical believers, who are being described as “a threat to national security.”

Meanwhile, Compass has documented the arrest of a medical doctor in Keren during the last week of January. The physician has now been transferred to military confinement at the Mai-Serwa military camp.

Dr. Segid was reportedly arrested while visiting an evangelical Christian woman in her home. Although the woman was also arrested, she was released two days later after signing a pledge to not participate in any unofficial Christian activities.

Three well-known Protestant pastors have been held under arrest since May 2004 by the Eritrean government, which refuses to confirm their location or allow anyone to visit them. Several hundred more evangelical Protestant believers, many of them soldiers caught worshipping during their active military service, also remain imprisoned for refusing to recant their faith.

The Eritrean government closed down the country’s independent Protestant churches in May 2002, declaring their places of worship illegal and forbidding home gatherings. The banned groups include indigenous Pentecostal and charismatic congregations, as well as Adventist, Presbyterian, Assemblies of God and Methodist-linked churches. Baha’i and Jehovah’s Witness adherents are also targeted severely.

Individuals and groups caught praying, studying the Bible or worshipping outside the umbrella of the country’s four recognized “official” religions (Orthodox Christian, Catholic, Lutheran or Islam) continue to be jailed and tortured, often incarcerated in metal shipping containers or underground cells.

Despite detailed inquiries filed over the past two years by the U.S. State Department, Amnesty International and several European governments, Eritrea categorically denies that any violations of religious freedom are taking place within the country.