Special -Report On Religious Freedom in the World Print
Wednesday, 19 October 2011 23:51

Catholic Information Service for Africa (Nairobi)

The German-based Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has just published its report on Christians persecuted for their faith around the world. CISA would like to share these important findings with you, our readers, hoping that you will support the suffering Christians through prayer and other forms of solidarity. We shall publish the findings on all African nations and selected countries where religious intolerance is particularly strong.

In the last few years, there has been an unrelenting clampdown on religious groups all over the country. Christians of all denominations have suffered gravely in an increasingly ruthless government campaign of intimidation against church of all kinds. <br /> Much has changed since 2002 when state recognition was granted to the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, The Evangelical Church (Lutherans) and Islam. Falling well short of governmental approval, the regulations under which the recognized religious operated required them to make a complete declaration of financial resources and possessions.

Unregistered religious groups faced ruthless persecutions-incarceration and violence. But since 2004, the regime''s efforts to silence unrecognized religions have begun to spread to recently approved religions. On March 5, 2004 President Isias Afewerki declared a zero-tolerance policy towards religious groups guilty of distancing (citizens) from the unity of the Eritrean people and who) distort the real meaning of religion. The regime, destabilized by the continuing stand-off with neighboring Ethiopia, was losing patience with religious groups and its wrath peaked when it deposed Eritrean Orhtodox Patriarch Antonios. As a leader of the country''s largest religious community, the Patriarch''s summary dismissal shocked the nation. The government then proceeded to put him under house arrest and appoint a layman as administrator of the Church. Some months later, Bishop Dioskoros Mendefera succeeded as patriarch. There were reports of widespread government interference in the synod.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church''s refusal to comply with the government''s demands to release clergy for military service was met with a firm riposte: orders requiring the church to hand over the schools, clinics and other welfare operations. At the same time, persecution against non-registered religious groups got worse. With widespread reports of arrests of clergy and other religious figures and lengthily detention without charge, the US State Department has added Eritrea to its list of "countries of particular concern".

January 2007:

The government arrested eight members of the Medhane Alem Congregation, a renewal movement of the Coptic Orthodox Church. After their arrest in Keren (the regional capital of the Anseba region), they were interrogated and asked to provide names of other members of the group. The government accused the Medhane Alem of ''heresy'' and wanting to "destroy" the Eritrean Orthodox Church. Three priests were arrested in 2006 and were subsequently imprisoned for at least two years.

March 2007:

Eritrea''s Catholic bishops announced their refusal to comply with government demands for clergy to carry out military service. Alone in their defiance among religious leaders, the bishops cited Church law in their opposition to the scheme for clergy under the age of 50 to serve as soldiers, rather than as chaplains. Church leaders stressed their concerns at the government''s refusal to impose a time-limit on the conscription period.

April 2007:

The Synod of the Eritrean Orthodox Church "unanimously appointed" Dioskoros Mendefera as Patriarch to replace Patriarch Antonios, who had been placed under house arrest. Rumours of government intervention in the election soon spread, with Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) calling Dioskoros a renegade appointed "16 months after the illegal deposition of the legal patriarch". CSW went on to condemn the government for an act of "interference of unprecedented seriousness". By then, reports emerged that the authorities had forcibly taken Patriarch Antonio"s robes and insignia and that he was being denied communion. Antonios is still acknowledged as the legitimate leader of the Eritrean Orthodox Church by Patriarch Shenoudah 111, leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

April 2007: Following an in-depth investigation, Aid to the church in Need produced a report giving a damning verdict on religious freedom in Eritrea. The report said the government had demanded Church leaders to submit a comprehensive list of clergy, their ages and whereabouts. The Church refused to co-operate, stating the demand was linked to the government''s order for clergy to carry out military service. The CAN report goes on to spell the worsening poverty of the country and how the church was providing a rare "glimmer of hope" providing welfare support for the young and infirm. ACN reported that despite the fact that there were only 200,000 Catholics in Eritrea, there were nearly 80,000 diocesan seminarians and more than 50 novice Franciscans.

May 2007:

20 members of the Haile Kiwot Church were arrested together with their children in Dekemhare, 20 miles south of the capital, Asmara. 1st January 2008, Kaile Hiwot pastor Michael Abraha was also arrested after the authorities confiscated?????? showing him officiating a wedding. He was released a month later. A few months previously, another Kaile Hiwot minister was arrested, having already spent 10 months in solitary confinement after being reportedly attending a Christian wedding. In September 2007, the government demanded that the Kaile Hiwot Church surrender all its property and assets to the government. The order specifically applied to the Church''s relief work, including church buildings, schools and vehicles. The order came almost a year after security forces raided and closed down the central offices of the Kaile Hiwot Church. At the time, a source close to the church said;" This is a direct attack upon the church".

August 2007:

The authorities ordered the Catholic Church to hand over to the Ministry of Social Welfare and Labour, Schools, clinics, orphanages and educational centers for women. The following day, the country''s four bishops sent a letter refusing to cooperate, citing the Church''s right to deny government interference in internal structures and matters of faith and practice.

September 2007:

Evangelical Christian Mogos Solom Semere died in the Adi-Nefase army camp near Assab, a coastal city in the south-east. He had been in prison since 2001 for being a member of a non-recognised Protestant pneumonia, for which he had been denied appropriate medical care.

September 2007:

The Eritrean government was accused of torturing to death Nigsti Haile, aged 33, at the Wi''a Military Training Centre, 20 miles from the sea port of Massawa. She was one of 10 single Christian women arrested at a church gathering in Keren. She was allegedly killed for refusing to sign a letter recanting her faith.

October 2007:

Helen Berhane, an Eritrean singer of Christian songs was imprisoned and tortured for two years before managing to escape and was given political asylum in Denmark. As reported by BBC News, the singer, who was a member of the unauthorized Evangelical Rema church, was arrested on May 13, 2004, after recording and selling a cassette of Christian hymns. For two years she was imprisoned in a metal container in the Mai Serwa porison camp near Asmara, and often beaten to make her recant. After a widespread international campaign, she was released at the end of October 2006. Having regained her freedom, she immediately fled to Sudan, where she was given asylum. A few months later, she was welcomed by Denmark. She now uses a wheel chair because of the serious injuries inflicted on her legs and feet while she was in prison.

November 2007:

The government deported 11 Catholic missionaries from a range of nationalities- both sisters and priests-after refusing to renew their residency permits. According to the Habeisha Agency, the missionaries "have always contributed to the progress and development of our country and hence by expelling them, the regime has committed an extremely uncivilized act, damaging the population. By doing this, the regime wishes to intimidate the Catholic hierarchy.

June 2008:

Egypt opened fire on Eritrean refugees entering the country and forcibly deported more than 1,000 of them-many of whom were Christians fleeing Eritrea''s restrictions on religious practice. After Israel was inundated by "a tsunami" of Sudanese and Eritrean refugees arriving via Egypt, Egypt was asked to intervene. However, instead of providing sanctuary for the refugees, it began shooting and forcibly deporting them. 16 refugees were shot in the first six months of 2008. Egypt forcibly deported 1,000 Eritrean refugees. The Eritrean Democratic Alliance (EDA) - the exiled opposition party - condemned the deportations. The EDA said they had confirmation that a number of refugees returned to Eritrea were being sent to secret prisons, tortured to death, or "shot dead in front of their colleagues to terrorize others from further attempts of escape."

Amnesty International has documented how torture is being inflicted on Eritreans imprisoned for their faith and has appealed to Western governments to stop the repatriation of Eritrean refugees. According to the EDA, Libya is also preparing to deport hundreds of Eritreans.

Catholic Information Service for Africa.