Eritrea Orders Protestant Assets Confiscated

Friday, September 22, 2006

Kale Hiwot Church’s humanitarian projects to beliquidated.
Special to Compass Direct

LOS ANGELES, September 20 (CompassDirect News) -- The Eritrean government demanded this month that the Kale Hiwot Church surrender all its property and physical assets to the government.

The written confiscation order targets possessions of the Protestant church’srelief department, which has for more than 20 years functioned as a legallyrecognized non-governmental organization (NGO) under the Eritrean Relief andRehabilitation Commission.

The demand was issued by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs,which has been closing down NGO operations in Eritrea steadily for the past twoyears. But according to local Christians, this government ministry has no legalauthority to issue and enforce such an order.

The sweeping property confiscation would include all church buildings,schools, vehicles and other assets.

Security police raided and closed down the central offices of the Kale Hiwot Church in Asmara’s Paradizo district last October. They arrested all thechurch’s administrators and staff , together with a few visitors presentat the time. Officers also confiscated the church’s computers, officeequipment and files.

Keys to the church offices have remained in the hands of the policeever since.

The raid in effect closed down not only the church office, but alsoseveral humanitarian aid projects operated by Kale Hiwot, which oversees anorphanage and kindergartens throughout the country.

“This is a direct attack upon the church,” one source toldCompass. “It is the final act of banning this church.”

Three-Phase Crackdown

Local Protestant Christians told Compass they believe that thepervasive government crackdown launched against their churches over the pastfour years is being carried out in three deliberate steps.

The first step was to arrest pastors and key church leaders, leaving morethan 30 of them jailed indefinitely, without any legal charges filed againstthem.

Then authorities raided and sealed church buildings, with the leaderlesscongregations forbidden to occupy or use them for worship or other religiousactivities.

Finally, the government is permanently confiscating all property andassets of these outlawed churches.

Although Kale Hiwot Church leaders have protested the government order,local sources told Compass, “There is no hope that the order will bereversed.”

Since May 2002, the Eritrean government has banned all independentreligious groups not under the umbrella of the Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran orMuslim faiths. Dozens of independent Protestant churches have been denied legalregistration and outlawed.

Everyone caught worshipping outside these government-sanctionedinstitutions – even in small handfuls in private homes – isarrested, tortured or subjected to severe pressures to deny their religiousbeliefs.

Even leaders of the four historically recognized groups areexperiencing harsh government restrictions. Ignoring church canons, local layauthorities removed the ordained patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church fromhis ecclesiastical position in August 2005. Patriarch Abune Antonios has beenheld under house arrest ever since.

Recently confirmed statistics indicate that at least 1,918 Eritreancitizens are jailed solely for their religious beliefs, without any access tojudicial process.

Copyright 2006 Compass Direct News