Vigil to protest forced detention of Eritrean Christians
Published 16 May 2012
A vigil will take place outside the Eritrean embassy in London on Thursday in protest against the regime's treatment towards Christians.
The vigil is being held to commemorate the tenth anniversary of mass detentions of Eritrean Christians, which began after the government started closing down churches.
On 5 May 2002, churches not belonging to the Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran denominations were effectively banned by the government.
The change ushered in an era of mass arrests, with members of independent charismatic and evangelical Christians being particularly singled out.
As many as 3,000 Christians are currently detained in Eritrea without charge or trial, and enduring inhumane conditions in detention centres across the country.
Christians are regarded as a threat by the country's regime, which is dictated by the president and the military.
Even permitted churches suffer persecution. Orthodox patriarch Abune Antonios has been under house arrest since 2006 for resisting government interference in church affairs, and priests seen as sympathising with him are detained and harassed.
The vigil will be joined by representatives of seven organisations from the UK and Ireland, and will be followed by an evening of prayer for Eritrean Christians.
Although the government has a shoot-to-kill policy in place along Eritrea's borders, thousands of people risk their lives to flee the country each year.
Many are fleeing military conscription, which can last indefinitely and is mandatory for all citizens aged between 18 and 48 years.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimated in 2011 that there are over 100,000 Eritrean refugees in Sudan, with around 1,600 crossing the border every month.
Some fall into the hands of traffickers who hold them hostage in the Sinai Desert, refusing to release them unless huge ransoms are paid or organs are forcibly removed.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide said the Eritrean security services even pursue or harass refugees in foreign countries through their agents abroad.
Sudan and Egypt have in the past forcibly returned Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers despite evidence of the severe mistreatment of returnees.
CSW is being joined at the vigil by the British Orthodox Church, Church in Chains-Ireland, the Evangelical Alliance-Wales, Human Rights Concern-Eritrea, Release Eritrea and Release International.
Andrew Johnston, Advocacy Director for Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), said the plight of Eritrean prisoners "does not receive the urgent attention it deserves".
He said: "We are committed to working, praying and standing in solidarity with all Eritreans who long for justice and are striving to see an end to human rights abuses in their country, and will continue to do so until every Eritrean is able to enjoy the rights and freedoms enshrined in the nation’s constitution.”
More news from the Mission