Eritrea: Intensive Persecution Fuels a Refugee Crisis

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Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | No. 485 | Wed 02 Jul 2008

The government of Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki is brutally
totalitarian. In September 2001 it imprisoned all its critics and
closed down all the independent media. A ban on 'non-traditional'
worship came into force in May 2002, affecting some 20,000 believers
in dozens of Protestant, Pentecostal and mission-based denominations.
Since then police have been pulling members from prayer meetings,
Bible studies and even wedding parties to face intimidation,
beatings, arrest, incarceration and torture (even to death). Today
more than 2,000 mostly Protestant Christians are incarcerated in
appalling conditions purely because they are active members of banned
'non-traditional' fellowships.

Such persecution is perpetrated mainly because dictators like
President Afwerki protect their power by repressing everything that
could threaten it. Protestant Christianity is regarded as a
particular threat because it is pro-liberty, missionary and global
(with strong links to Western democracies). Also a long-held
suspicion is the persecution in Eritrea may have involved a quid pro
quo deal between the government and the influential Eritrean Orthodox
Church to which some 40 percent of the population belong. In the
early years of the persecution, Orthodox priests frequently led the
police raids against the banned churches.

However, the situation has changed -- the persecution has broadened.
After Orthodox Patriarch Abune Antonios complained about the
government beating and arresting young people from the Orthodox
Church's renewal movement, the government deposed the Patriarch in
August 2005 and put him under house arrest. The government then
appointed its own puppet, a compliant layman named Yoftahe Dimetros,
to administer the Orthodox Church. He ruled that all tithes collected
be deposited in a government account so the government can control
all church finances. In April 2007 it installed a renegade bishop,
Bishop Dioscoros, as the new Patriarch and disseminator of
propaganda. Dozens of non-compliant priests have been excommunicated
and several 'dissident' Orthodox and Catholic priests are now
imprisoned alongside their Protestant and Pentecostal brethren.
Compass Direct reports that Reporters Without Borders has identified
government minister Naizghi Kiflu as 'the man within the government
in charge of crushing the churches'.

Amnesty International has documented the torture inflicted on
Eritreans imprisoned for their faith and has regularly appealed to
Western governments to stop forcibly returning refugees to Eritrea.
After Israel was inundated by 'a tsunami' of Sudanese and Eritrean
refugees arriving via Egypt, Egypt was asked to intervene. But
instead of accommodating the refugees, Egypt began shooting and
forcibly deporting them. Sixteen refugees have been shot this year
and in June 2008 Egypt forcibly deported some 1,000 Eritrean
refugees, many of them Christians. On Sunday 29 June the Eritrean
Democratic Alliance (EDA, the Opposition alliance in exile) condemned
the deportations. The EDA said they had confirmation that a number of
refugees returned to Eritrea had been sent to secret prisons,
tortured to death or 'shot dead in front of their colleagues to
terrorise others from further attempts of escape'. According to the
EDA, Libya is also preparing to mass-deport hundreds of Eritrean


* will work through this fire of persecution, refining his Church,
creating a sanctified, unified, Christ-focused people of God who
will, in God's time, be a great blessing to a free Eritrea.

* will use the present Eritrean refugee crisis to force the human
rights tragedy of Eritrea into the international spotlight as a
matter that needs urgent attention and co-ordinated action.

* will deal in righteousness and justice with President Isaias
Afwerki and his corrupt, persecuting regime, for the sake of the
Church, the nation and the Kingdom of God. May 'the upright ...
rule over them in the morning'. (Psalm 49:14b ESV)

* the Holy Spirit will comfort, sustain and sanctify all those
Eritrean Christians who are imprisoned and bearing reproach for
the sake of the Lord. (Psalm 69:7-9)

'You who seek God, let your hearts revive. For the Lord hears the
needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.' (Psalm
69:32b,33 ESV)




Eritrea, one of the world's worst abusers of religious liberty, has
been listed by the US Commission of International Religious Freedom
(USCIRF) as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) since 2004 -- and
the situation is worsening. Some 2000 mostly Protestant Christians
are imprisoned for their faith in appalling conditions, and the
regime of dictator-president Isaias Afwerki has taken control of the
influential Eritrean Orthodox Church. The regime's gross human rights
violations have created a refugee crisis in the region. But in June,
Egypt forcibly returned some 1000 refugees to Eritrea. Libya too is
said to be about to mass-deport Eritrean refugees. A number of
refugees returned to Eritrea have reportedly been incarcerated,
tortured or shot dead. Please pray for the Church in Eritrea, for
Eritrean refugees, and for freedom for Eritrea.

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The WEA Religious Liberty Commission sponsors this
RL Prayer List to help individuals and groups pray
specifically and regularly for religious liberty
issues, and in particular to uphold the Church
where it is suffering persecution.

RL Prayer is moderated by Ron Clough, a commissioner
of the WEA RLC and convenor of the Australian EA RLC.
Elizabeth Kendal researched and authored this message.