Eritrea Releases Gospel Singer Helen Berhane From Prison

Monday, November 6, 2006

By BosNewsLife News Center

ASMARA, ERITREA (BosNewsLife) -- Amid mounting international pressure Eritrea's authorities have released Helen Berhane, an Eritrean Gospel singer who was jailed since May 2004, Christian rights investigators confirmed Saturday, November 4.

Berhane, who became a symbol for over 2,000 people imprisoned for religious reasons, was at home Saturday, November 4, with her family in the Eritrean capital Asmara, said advocacy groups Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) and Release Eritrea. It was not clear what, if any, conditions were attached to her release.

In a statement monitored by BosNewsLife, Berhane Asmelash, Director of Release Eritrea, said he was "extremely relieved" but urged authorities to extend the same decision to the remaining prisoners of conscience.

Helen Berhane, 31, is a member of the Rhema Pentecostal Church. She was incarcerated soon after releasing an album of Gospel music popular among young Eritrean Christians.


She was reportedly held for extensive periods of time in shipping containers and in underground cells at the Mai-Serwa military camp. The Gospel singer repeatedly refused to sign a paper recanting her faith and promising not to participate in church-related activities, CSW told BosNewsLife.

Her release came after she was admitted to hospital last month, apparently with signs of having suffered physical mistreatment. "We are delighted to learn of Helen Berhane’s release. She has been incarcerated without charge or trial for the last two years and appears to have suffered the most appalling mistreatment simply because of her faith, despite the provisions for freedom of worship contained within the Eritrean Constitution, said CSW Advocacy Director, Alexa Papadouris.

"We call on the Eritrean Government to release all other prisoners of conscience and to refrain from further harassment of Eritrean citizens who simply wish to worship in peace according to their faith,” Papadouris added. There confirmed number of Eritrean citizens known to be still jailed solely for their religious beliefs are at least 2,077, according to estimates.


Human rights groups say most prisoners are Christians, but include also some Muslims. None of those incarcerated have so far been brought to trial by the Eritrean government, Christian investigators say. In May 2002, Eritrea closed down all independent religious groups not operating under the umbrella of the government-sanctioned Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran or Muslim faiths.

Independent Protestant churches have been refused legal registration, and even the Orthodox Church’s Patriarch Abune Antonius has been place under house arrest while his reportedly flourishing renewal movement has fallen out of favor, observers say. The government has reportedly condemned Antonius for refusing to allow state interference in church

However the Eritrean government has denied any wrongdoing. It says it wants to protect the country against dangerous sects. Anyone caught worshipping outside the four recognized religious institutions, even in private homes, has been subjected to arrest, torture and severe pressure to deny their faith, human rights groups and church officials have said. (With BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos and reports from Eritrea).

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