ERITREA: CHRISTIAN STUDENTS SHUT INTO SHIPPING CONTAINERS


Eight believers punished for objecting to officials’ burning of 1,500 Bibles.

LOS ANGELES, August 11 (Compass Direct News) – Authorities on Tuesday (August 5) locked up eight high school students at a military training school in metal shipping containers for objecting to the burning of hundreds of Bibles, sources told Compass.

The eight male students from the Sawa Defense Training Centre in Sawa, near Eritrea’s border with Sudan, were incarcerated after military authorities confiscated more than 1,500 personal Bibles from new students arriving for the 2008-2009 academic year.

The eight students objected when military officials began burning the Bibles.

“During the time that the Bibles were set on fire, the chief commander of Sawa, Col. Debesai Ghide, gave a warning to all the students by telling them that Sawa is a place of patriotism, not a place for ‘Pentes’ [Pentecostals],’” said one source. “Eight male students to whom God gave boldness to speak against the burning of the Bibles have been taken into custody in one of the metal shipping containers that the military at Sawa uses as prison cells for Christians who have been found practicing their faith in the center.”

Reading the Bible privately, discussing Christian faith with other students, praying before or after meals alone or in groups and possessing the Bible or any other Christian literature is forbidden at the center, the source said. Students involved in such activities are liable to imprisonment and severe military punishment.

Military service is mandatory in Eritrea, and Eritrean students are required to attend training at military centers such as the one at Sawa in order to graduate from high school. They receive vocational training as well as instruction in academic subjects at the Sawa defense center, and then either go on to higher education or are conscripted into the military.

On January 4, 2007, military commanders at the Sawa center conducted what they termed a “random check-up on the activities of Christian extremists” among student conscripts. While searching the conscripts’ personal effects, military personnel found 250 Bibles that the Christian students were using in their personal devotional time.

After burning all the Bibles before the entire military camp, the commanders arrested 35 of the teenage students and ordered them subjected to severe military punishment, including physical torture.

Eritrean officials have routinely denied religious oppression exists in the country, saying the government is only enforcing laws against unregistered churches. In May 2002, Eritrea closed down all independent religious groups not operating under the umbrella of the government-sanctioned Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran or Muslim faiths.

The government has denied all efforts by independent Protestant churches to register, and subsequently the Orthodox Church and its flourishing renewal movement has also been subject to government raids. People caught worshipping outside the four recognized religious institutions, even in private homes, suffer arrest, torture and severe pressure to deny their faith.

Eritrea has continued to dismiss accusations of religious repression, with presidential aide Yemane Ghebremeskel reportedly saying the country has a secular constitution and long tradition of religious history.

The U.S. Department of State notes in its 2007 International Religious Freedom Report that Eritrea has not implemented its 1997 constitution providing for religious freedom. The state department last year designated Eritrea as a Country of Particular Concern, a place on the list of the worst violators of religious freedom it has held since 2004.

More than 2,000 Christians, including pastors and priests from both Protestant and Orthodox churches, are now under arrest in police stations, military camps and jails all across Eritrea because of their religious beliefs. Although many have been incarcerated for months or even years, none have been charged officially or given access to judicial process.

In December 2006 the government of Eritrea wrested control of finances and personnel from the Eritrean Orthodox Church. The church has been under de facto government control since Patriarch Abune Antonios was placed under house arrest and then divested of his ecclesiastical authority in August 2005.

Report from Compass Direct News

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ERITREA: CHRISTIAN WOMAN IN PRISON DIES OF MALARIA


Weakened by torture, Azib Simon succumbs to disease only a week after contracting it.

LOS ANGELES, July 23 (Compass Direct News) – Imprisoned and tortured for her Christian faith since December, 37-year-old Azib Simon died of malaria in Eritrea’s Wi’a Military Training Center last week.

Weakened by ongoing torture, sources said, Simon contracted malaria only a week before she died. Christians in the prison are rarely given medical attention, and the sources said authorities refused to provide treatment for Simon’s malaria.

Simon was the sister of former Eritrean television journalist Biniam Simon, who recently fled the country after abandoning his career at government controlled ERI-TV.

Azib Simon had attended the Kale-Hiwet Church in Assab, one of the independent evangelical churches that have been targeted by the country’s Marxist-leaning authoritarian regime. She was held at the notorious Wi’a Military Training Center, 20 miles south of the Red Sea port of Massawa, since her arrest in December 2007.

Prisoners at the Wi’a military camp are under constant pressure to recant their faith.

On June 8 Compass learned that eight Christian brothers held at the Adi-Quala prison were taken to the medical emergency facilities as a result of torture by military personnel at the camp.

Simon’s death makes a total of five Christians whom Compass has confirmed have died in Eritrean prisons after being tortured for refusing to recant their faith. On September 5, 2007, Eritrean authorities at the Wi’a Military Training Center tortured Nigisti Haile, 33, to death for refusing to recant her faith. On February 15, 2007, Magos Solomon Semere also died under torture at the Adi-Nefase Military Confinement facility outside Assab.

In 2006, two other Christians – Immanuel Andegergesh, 23, and Kibrom Firemichel, 30 – died from torture wounds in Eritrea on October 17.

Since 2002 the oppressive regime has outlawed all independent Protestant churches, closing their buildings and banning gatherings in private homes. Worshippers caught disobeying the blanket restrictions are arrested and tortured for weeks, months or even years. They are never allowed legal counsel or brought to trial.

The government only recognizes Islam and Eritrean Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran Christian denominations as “historical” legal religions. High ranking clergy have been replaced by the government’s choice of men, and many believe the clampdown is an attempt of President Isaias Afwerki’s government to control church members.

It is estimated that more than 1,000 Christians are imprisoned at any given time. Many of the arrests of Christians take place in groups when the government breaks up local house meetings.

It was not clear how Simon was arrested or where she was at the time of her detention last December.

 

Under Attack in Assab

Another round-up of Christians in the port city of Assab took place earlier this month, sources told Compass.

Sources said authorities were singling out Pentecostal believers, among other evangelicals, whom they arrested with the intention of pressuring them to recant their faith.

On July 8 alone, six members of the Kale-Hiwet Church, 11 members of the Full Gospel Church in Assab and 15 members of the Rema Church in Assab were arrested at their homes one by one and imprisoned in the Wi’a military camp. Among them were seven women, one of them a known evangelist of the Kale-Hiwet Church in Eritrea, whose name was withheld for the safety of her family.

One of the arrested women, a member of the Berhane Hiwet Church, was taken to the Adi-Abyto Military Camp and released on bail on July 9. Her bail was 50,000 nakfa, (approximately US$3,400), and authorities warned her not to participate in Christian activities in the future.

Eritrean authorities also arrested nine leaders of a Jehovah’s Witnesses group on Wednesday July 16 in Asmara, Compass confirmed.

The nine leaders are held at Mai Serwa Military Camp, known for its harsh torture and conditions. It is believed that the government has intensified hunting of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ main leaders because it is angry that the group is still organized and active in the country.

Since the Eritrean referendum in 1992, followers of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Eritrea have been under constant attack, succumbing to arrests and torture.

Report from Compass Direct News