Thursday, September 8, 2005
By BosNewsLife News Center
ASMARA, ERITREA (BosNewsLife)-- Police of the troubled African nation of Eritrea have arrested a Christian bridal couple and their 18 wedding guests and churches expressed concern about "widening" religious "persecution" in the country, news reports said Thursday, September 8.
Compass Direct, a Christian news agency with contacts in the region, said seven women and 13 men were attending "a private wedding ceremony" Sunday, September 4 in the home of the bride when Asmara police raided the house. There was no immediate independent confirmation of that report and officials have not yet reacted to the claims.
Compass Direct said the 20 prisoners jailed at Police Station No. 5 in Asmara, the Eritrean capital, included the couple as well as their best men and bridesmaids, and two key evangelical church leaders. Their names were not released.
The Hallelujah Church reportedly had taken "careful precautions", as there was no singing or noticeable Christian activities, but somehow police learned about the wedding and arrived just as the ceremony was beginning, Compass Direct said.
A total of 17 Protestant pastors are now jailed in Eritrea, where worshippers from any Christian community outside the government-recognized Orthodox, Catholic or Lutheran churches have been subject to arrest since May 2002.
Human rights watchers believe at least 1,000 evangelical church members are in custody in prisons, police stations and military confinement camps across Eritrea for refusing, after arrest, to sign documents recanting their faith. Many are held in solitary confinement and subjected to regular beatings and more severe forms of torture, Compass Direct reported.
The latest developments came two weeks after human rights group Release Eritrea expressed concern that Abune Antonios, patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, was suspended from all his positions, apparently under pressure by local authorities.
Local authorities have reportedly ordered the patriarch to limit his movements and religious activities between his residence and Asmara’s St. Mary Orthodox Church, a 10-minute walk from his home.
Release Eritrea "is concerned about the widening persecution of Eritrean Christians which is now beginning to impact on those who are of the formally 'recognized' groups," the group said in a statement obtained by BosNewsLife News Center. However "we are also encouraged and heartened by the exemplary courage of his holiness Abuna Antonios to stand by his persecuted flock."
The Eritrean government has in the past denied human rights abuses saying it only acts against those undermining society of roughly 4.5 million people.
Last week Patriarch Antonios emerged from isolation to sign the public book of condolences for the sudden death of Foreign Minister Ali Said Abdella, news reports said. Compass Direct quoted "several sources" in Asmara saying that this temporary lifting of the house arrest was "a government trick" to deceive the Orthodox community into believing that the prelate was still presiding over church affairs. (With BosNewsLife Research, Stefan J. Bos and reports from Eritrea).
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