January 31, 2011
While Tunisia was witnessing a remarkable uprising in December 2010, Eritrea renewed the crackdown on Christians. While dozens of Christians were arrested for praying together in Eritrea’s capital Asmara, at least two Christians died elsewhere in separate prisons after being refused medical treatment.
“That a fresh onslaught on Christians in Eritrea began around the time of the Jasmine Revolution, which forced Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to resign, is not a coincidence,” said WEA-RLC Executive Director Godfrey Yogarajah. “It reflects Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki’s fear that the ripples of such a movement in the region can threaten its own anti-people regime,” he said.
With progressive people in Yemen and Egypt following suit, the ongoing wave of revolution in the Arab world – which reminds one of similar revolutions in the post-Soviet Eastern Europe – has now reached dangerously close to Eritrea. Even neighboring Sudan is now set to split into a largely Arabised Muslim nation of the north and a predominantly Christian south. “This may prompt President Isaias to tighten its grip on power leading to an even more severe persecution of political dissidents and those from unregistered Protestant Christian groups,” warned Yogarajah.
A typical iron-fist ruler, the Eritrean president has not allowed the citizens to mobilize themselves around any issue independent of its tight regulation regime – be it a political ideology or a noble religious cause.
It is estimated that between 1,500 and 3,000 Christians are languishing in Eritrea’s notorious prisons. And a recent US Embassy cable released by Wiki Leaks confirmed that torture and inhuman treatment of prisoners – mainly political dissidents but also including Protestant Christians – remain rampant in this small country on the Horn of Africa.
WEA-RLC strongly decries the bashing of unregistered Christian and other peaceful religious groups by the Eritrean government due to the alleged fear that such independent associations can one day become a threat to its survival. Since 2002, Eritrea has banned religious groups other than the four recognized denominations – the Orthodox Church of Eritrea; Sunni Islam; the Roman Catholic Church; and the Evangelical Church of Eritrea (Lutheran).
The Eritrean regime has restricted civil rights of its citizens under the pretext of a sustained threat from Ethiopia – with which it fought a war from 1998 to 2000 and lost 70,000 lives. “But it is clear that the regime merely seeks to sustain power by not allowing the people to express their political will,” said Yogarajah.
Around half of the 5 million people in Eritrea are Christian, and a majority of the rest are Muslim. Though surely not a follower, President Isaias is paradoxically a member of the Orthodox Church of Eritrea.
For further information please contact Godfrey Yogarajah, Executive Director, at [email protected], or visit http://www.worldevangelicals.org/commissions/rlc/.
The Religious Liberty Commission is monitoring the religious liberty situation in more than 100 nations, defending persecuted Christians, informing the global church, challenging the Church to pray (www.idop.org) and giving all possible assistance to those who are suffering. The Commission also makes fact finding trips and meets with governments and ambassadors speaking up for the suffering brothers and sisters. At the United Nations the Commission reports about the situation and arranges special hearings with Christians from countries under pressure.