Eritrea Pastors Face Execution For "Treason"; Prayer Group Detained

Monday, June 2, 2008

By BosNewsLife Senior Special Correspondent Eric Leijenaar

ASMARA/LONDON/AMSTERDAM (BosNewsLife) -- At least four prominent Protestant pastors in Eritrea faced another day of uncertainty Saturday, May 31, after government officials said the church leaders may receive the death penalty for "treason", while dozens of other believers were detained in recent days, a well-informed advocacy group reported.

Netherlands-based Open Doors said from its headquarters in the Dutch town of Ermelo that the pastors are among 2,000 imprisoned Christians in Eritrea, where authorities have stepped up a crackdown on unauthorized worship.

Three of the pastors were identified as Full Gospel Church leaders Haile Naizghi and Kifle Gebremeskel, together with Tesfatsion Hagos of the Rema Evangelical Church. They have been behind bars incommunicado for the past four years, Open Doors and other sources said.

The name of the fourth pastor was not immediately revealed, but reports suggested more church leaders face similar charges, according to a BosNewsLife analyse. Advocacy group Reporters Without Borders has previously said the known pastors facing possible execution "have been missing within the Eritrean prison system since their arrests in May 2004."


Family members and fellow church members were reportedly facing "tremendous uncertainty" Open Doors said, adding that it urged its supporters to "pray for the jailed Eritrean Christians and especially for the four pastors."

Although Open Doors presented a petition to the Eritrean Embassy in The Hague signed by thousands of Christians and letters to the European Commission, the situation hasn't improved Christians, the group suggested. "It seems that Eritrea doesn't care about the criticism," said Open Doors' Netherlands Director Tjalling Schotanus.

He said his organization learned that last week some 25 Christians were detained in the capital Asmara during a worship service in a private home. The 20 men and five women are behind bars in a police station in the town of Adi-Kuala, he said. "That's why it's very important that we pray much for Eritrea."

Presidential adviser and government minister Naizghi Kiflu has been named as the official within the government in charge of crushing churches. In May 2002 he banned 36 churches and religious groups from state recognition on "grounds that they allegedly encouraged insurrection and supported networks of deserters," Reporters Without Borders noted in published remarks.


Since May 2002, only the mainstream Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran churches have been classified by the Eritrean government as legal and "historic", while the government has reportedly called independent Protestants "the Christian equivalent of [terror network] al-Qaeda" that constitute a terrorist threat to the nation.

Nearly half of the population are followers of Islam. "It's one of the reasons that Eritrea also tackles the renewal movement within the Orthodox Church," said Open Doors in a statement to BosNewsLife. The group said thousands of Christians are held in "inhuman circumstances" including in "containers, underground cellars, and prisons." Christians "get little food and are sometimes tortured," claimed Open Doors, which has close contacts with targeted Christians in the Horn of Africa nation.

News on reported persecution in Eritrea came as some 25,000 Christians were expected to attend the Great Big Tea Party of Open Door's sister organization in Britain, "to raise awareness of Christians suffering around the world as a result of their faith."

In homes and churches from Torquay to Edinburgh, Belfast to Felixstowe, partygoers at over 800 venues will sip tea Sunday, June 8, eat scones and pledge their support. "Persecution today is on an epic scale: right now, 200 million Christians are suffering for their faith in countries as widespread as Iran and Burma, Colombia and Indonesia," Open Doors UK&Ireland told BosNewsLife.


"Persecution takes many forms and can be as simple as not being able to obtain Christian literature and bans on holding church services, through to hardcore physical, sexual and emotional abuse, forcing believers to live secret lives underground."

In China, the largest tea producer in the world and host of the 2008 Olympic Games, "millions of Christians are persecuted every day," the organization added. "Although citizens can now choose their own careers, travel abroad, own a car and establish a business, Christians cannot legally hold a prayer meeting in a private home, share a church service with foreign Christians or receive religious education under the age of 18."

By "utting on the kettle at the Great Big Tea Party, Christians in the UK will be raising thousands of pounds for persecuted Christians in China and around the world, providing them with Bibles and Christian literature, training, financial and practical help, and livelihood skills to enable them to live out their God-given right to practise their faith,"Open Doors UK&Ireland explained.

Its spokesperson, Allen Moxham, estimated that some "65 million cups of tea are drunk in the UK every day, but few people realise that Christians in countries such as China, India and Sri Lanka, where tea is produced, often face intense persecution from their families, communities and even government officials." Moxham said the Great Big Tea Party is a case of "information becoming inspiration to take action." (With reporting from Asmara and London).

Copyright 2008 BosNewsLife. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without our prior written consent.