FCO Human Rights Report 2019
The Government of Eritrea permits and regulates the practice of four religions—Orthodox Christianity, Catholicism, Lutheran Christianity, and Sunni Islam—whose adherents enjoy freedom of worship. Activity by adherents of other religions is suppressed, and there are frequent reports of groups of peaceful worshippers being detained. This was highlighted in the Bishop of Truro’s Report released in July.
In May, our Ambassador raised concerns that the leaders of the Pentecostal church had been in jail for over 15 years without trial. That same month there were reports that more members of the Pentecostal church had been arrested.
In July, the FCO issued a tweet following reports that the Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Abune Antonios, deposed in 2006 and held under house arrest, had been excommunicated for ‘heresy’. In June, in a measure to enforce a 1995 declaration to bring the provision of health services under state control, the government took over all the clinics managed by the Catholic Church. The government also continued its programme of transferring the management of religious schools to the state..
APPG Commentary on the current state of Freedom of Religion or Belief 2019
Eritrea has a population of approximately 6 million people, split roughly evenly between Muslims and Christians. The one-party political system is dominated by the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), led by President Isais Afwerky. No other political parties are allowed and the government violently suppresses dissent and human rights.
The government refuses to recognise all but four religious groups – the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Sunni Islam, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Evangelical Church of Eritrea. FoRB is severely limited for any outside of these faith communities and even they experience harassment.
Members of approved religions are regularly arrested for protesting government interference in their activities. Hajji Ibrahim Younus was arrested in October 2017, along with dozens of others, for opposing Government interference in the operation of the Al Diaa Islamic School. On 30 January 2019, he died in Mai Serwa prison. Said Mohamed Ali, also arrested for the same reason, died on 13th June 2019, due to lack of medical care and harsh prison conditions.
In June 2019, twenty health centres and hospitals that were run by the Catholic church were shut, by direct order of the Eritrean government.
The government also interferes with the leadership of approved religions, appointing individuals to specific positions and closely monitoring their actions: it appointed the Mufti of the Eritrean Muslim community and the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Eritrea. The former Patriarch, Abune Antonios, has been under house arrest for the past 14 years for refusing to cooperate with the government. He was replaced as leader of the church by a government selection and the church, in July, announced the excommunication of Antonios for heresy. The Patriarch defended his innocence in several leaked audio and video interviews.
In June 2019, five Orthodox monks were arrested from Debre Bizen monastery, and they are still in prison. The reason for their arrest is believed to be for supporting Abune Anotonios and demanding that the church be independent from the interference of the Eritrean government. An unknown number of Muslims and Christians remain in detention for protesting the government appropriation of their institutions.
The government also continues to routinely arrest people for simply exercising their right to FoRB. In January 2019, fifteen Christians were arrested while meeting in a private house in Setanta Otto district, Asmara. Six were released within a week of their arrest; all of them were women with children. The rest were also released after two weeks.
On 10 May, 141 people were arrested while meeting in a housing courtyard in Mai Temenay district Asmara. Out of these, 104 were women, 23 were men and 14 were children. Half of the prisoners were released within the first two weeks; the rest are still in prison. A week later, 17 May, 30 Christians were arrested from Godaif district in Asmara.189 Eighteen of them were released after two weeks; again, the rest are still in prison.
On 22 June, 60 people from the Methodist church in the town of Keren were arrested. They were taken to a place called Hashkeray in the Keren region and all are still in prison. In this group are women with children, the elderly and one pregnant woman. The following week the Eritrean security forces continued to arrest Christians from Keren who belonged to different Evangelical churches.
On Saturday 17 August, Eritrean security raided a home church in Godaif district, Asmara, and arrested 80 Christians.
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