Dozens of Christians rounded up in Eritrea church crackdown

Ruth GledhilHelen Berhane – imprisoned in a shipping container, beaten and tortured in Eritrea for her love of Jesus

More than 120 Christians have been rounded up in Eritrea as the government steps up its crackdown on  unregistered churches.

The round-up represents a new phase in action begun in 2002 against religious practices that are not affiliated with Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran and Orthodox Christian churches or Sunni Islam. 

Christian Solidarity Worldwide is reporting that 45 Christians, including entire families, elderly men and a disabled woman, were taken from their homes in Adi Quala town in the south of the country and transported to Adi Aglis detention camp. The arrests last month left 23 children without their parents.

A further 15 Christians were arrested in Gindae town in the Northern Red Sea Region and in the Godaif district of the capital Asmara, 17 Christians were rounded up.

Forty-five others, mostly women, had already been rounded up earlier in May in another part of the city as they gathered at a party arranged by a recently married couple. Further arrests are anticipated as local district committees, composed of members of the security services, the ruling party, the local administration and the Orthodox Church, continue their house to house inquiries. Christians in the city have begun a period of prayer and fasting for peace and safety, said CSW.

In her latest report to the Human Rights Council, Sheila Keetharuth, the United Nations special rapporteur on Eritrea, noted that 'the practice of arbitrary arrest and detention of individuals based on their religious belief continues', and referenced earlier arrests in Ghindae and Adi Quala, as well as the continuing detention of Patriarch Antonios of the Eritrean Orthodox Church.

Among the report's recommendations is a call for the immediate and unconditional release of 'all those unlawfully and arbitrarily detained, including members of the G-15, journalists and members of religious groups'.

Mervyn Thomas, chief executive of CSW, said: 'These arrests signify a renewed intensity in the crackdown that has been ongoing since 2002, and are a clear indication that the severe repression of freedom of religion or belief continues unabated in Eritrea.

'In her latest report, the special rapporteur noted that Eritrea has ignored the bulk of recommendations from her previous reports, while those made by the Commission of Inquiry have gone unheeded. In view of the continuing violations and lack of cooperation, we call on the HRC to support the renewal of the special rapporteur's mandate, and also to urge the international community to ensure that perpetrators of crimes against humanity are held accountable, including through universal jurisdiction, whenever this is appropriate.'

Last year Helen Berhane, young Christian woman from Eritrea, described how she was imprisoned in a shipping container, tortured and beaten and starved - all because she refused to stop saying the name of Jesus. She found asylum in Denmark after spending years locked in a shipping container because she would not deny her Christian faith.