Another Eritrean Priest Forced Into Hiding Print
Thursday, 13 October 2011 19:51

One of the main activities of Eritrean Embassies everywhere has been to bring all the Eritrean Orthodox Churches in Diaspora under the total control of the government. The embassies do this through intimidation and sowing seeds of discord and division. The known instruments of this nefarious campaign have been local members of the ruling party in Eritrea (PFDJ), in cooperation with embassy officials.


One of the many churches that have been the target of such a relentless campaign has been Kidane Mehret [Covenant of Mercy] Eritrean Orthodox Church in Nairobi, Kenya. It is to be remembered that two years ago the former priest there, Fr.Hadgu W. Haimanot, was forced out of his church for opposing the unwarranted interference in church affairs by the Eritrean Embassy in Nairobi. When his life was threatened, Fr. Hadgu had taken refuge at the UNHCR in Nairobi, eventually being settled in the US. Four years ago, there was another priest in the Sudan, Fr.Ghebreberhan Fesseha, who escaped assassination attempt by agents of the regime.


Fr. Berhane Haileab, an erstwhile supporter of the regime. He was brought from Asmara to replace Fr.Hadgu nearly two years ago. Since he took his post, this priest has run into the same trouble with the Embassy as his predecessor, reportedly for taking a similar stand.


Yoftahe Dimetros, the political appointee who has been running the Eritrean Orthodox Church as a mere department of the repressive regime over the past eight years, was brought to Kenya in mid-December to force Fr. Berhane to obey orders from the embassy. When the priest stood his ground, Yoftahe handed him a letter ordering the priest to present himself in Asmara, Eritrea by December 24, 2009. Fr. Berhane still refused, putting Yoftahe’s own legitimacy and authority over the Eritrean Orthodox Church into question.


On January 3, 2010, at the behest of the Eritrean Embassy in Nairobi, members of the ruling party in Eritrea broke into Fr. Berhane’s residence and took away all his belongings. After having been barred from entering the church building and with threats on his life, Fr.Berhane Haileab has since gone into hiding in Nairobi. ICFC has learned that he has requested and has been granted protection from the UNHCR in Nairobi.


To provide a balanced view of the situation here, it is important to give a little background information on Fr. Berhane Haileab. Before he was transferred to Nairobi, he had wreaked havoc within the Orthodox Church as Mr. Yoftahe’s trusted right-hand person. He had played an enthusiastic role in the evil campaign to deposing the legitimate Patriarch, H. H. Abune Antonios, and vigorously defended the arrest of many clergies. In fact, he was assigned to Nairobi because he was an ardent servant of the regime and of Mr. Yoftahe. In short, ICFC has sufficiently corroborated Fr. Berhane’s unsavory past as an agent of destruction and persecution.He has much to answer for and a great deal of work awaits him to redeem himelf. Nevertheless, ICFC still opposes the treatment he has received at the hands of the same regime he had served so faithfully.


The government of Eritrea has received world-wide condemnation for its savage persecution of Christians and others.  Eritrea is one of 8 countries listed by the US State Department as Countries of Particular Concern for its flagrant abuse and persecution of Christians. Many churches have been ordered closed since May 2002. Nearly 3500 Christians are languishing in prisons. Tens of thousands have fled the country. Scores of church leaders, including the Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church and priests, remain in prison.


once again calls on the Eritrean government to release all prisoners of conscience, and respect its citizens’ inalienable right to worship freely.