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 High ranking clergy have been replaced by the government’s choice of men, and many believe the clampdown is an attempt of President Isaias Afwerki’s government to control church members.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