- Africa's most brutal dictatorship, Eritrea, continued its wanton arresting expedition by detaining 34 more Christians congregating and praying in a local home in Keren last Wednesday. Keren is the country's third largest city about 200 kilometres northwest of the capital, Asmara.
The government's brutal crackdown on independent protestants span from 2002, whereby churches are closed and private house congregations are banned. Eritrea government only recognises Islam, practiced by half of the population of about 3.6 million, and three others namely Eritrea Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran churches.
Reports by US-based media 'Compass Direct News' reveal that the "Berhane Hiwet" evangelicals congregation attaked by police comprised of 24 men and 10 women. The married women were transferred to Adi-Abyto Military Confinement the following day. Wednesday's arrests follow the 24 May arrests of 25 Protestant Christians who were later incarcerated by security officials at Wi'a Military Centre.
Members of Pentecostal, Jehovah's Witnesses, independent evangelicals and a group of reformed members of Eritrea's Orthodox have earlier been tortured, harassed and subjected to extreme temperature conditions and no access to family simply for choosing not to follow the four mainstream religions rubberstamped by the regime. The government's crude actions have received little resistance from the citizenry that seem to have succumbed to the iron rule.
A US government report on "International Religious Freedom" reflects that citizens generally were tolerant of one another in the practice of their religion, with the exception of societal attitudes toward Jehovah's Witnesses and Pentecostal groups. The government requires citizens to perform national service in the military or face incarceration, but it had no programmes for alternative national service that would permit Jehovah's Witnesses and others whose faith precludes military service to satisfy the requirement. Some individuals who viewed failure to perform military service as a sign of disloyalty encouraged harassment of these religious groups and therefore reported their activities to the government.
Eritrea is no stranger to human rights violations. Last year, a report by the Paris-based media rights watchdog, Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) ranked the 48,489 square miles country the worst freedom of the press in 169 countries world-wide. The report had cited the privately-owned press having been banished by authoritarian President Isaias Afeworki. The few journalists who dared to criticise the regime were reportedly sent off to prison camps.
Reports have quoted President Afeworki denying that several jailed Protestants pastors were about to face treason charges. Dr Kifle Gebremeskel and Haile Naizghi and Pastor Tesfatsion Hagos of the Rema Evangelical Church have been detained since May 2004.
'Compact Direct News' reports President Afwerki's denial of the religious persecutions as "false allegations, exaggeration and baseless fabrication."
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