Parliamentary meeting discusses religious persecution in Eritrea

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Eritrea held a closed session yesterday to examine ongoing religious persecution in Eritrea, in a meeting entitled: Religious persecution in Eritrea: A crime against humanity. The meeting was chaired by Lord Alton of Liverpool, who is a member of the APPGs for Eritrea and International Freedom of Religion or Belief.

This event follows a debate in Westminster Hall on 22 May in which Chris Philp MP noted that, “in June last year, 33 Christian women in Eritrea were imprisoned by the Eritrean Government simply for taking part in prayer activity”.

Freedom of religion, the meeting heard, is poorly defended in Eritrea, and the situation continues to deteriorate. The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslim communities, which were amongst the first to experience religious repression, continue to suffer. The Evangelical and Pentecostal faith communities, whose activities were effectively outlawed, along with those of other Protestant denominations, by the enforcement in 2002 of registration requirements, face a campaign of arrest which has been ongoing since 2002. Indefinite detention without charge or trial in life-threatening conditions, debilitation and even deaths in custody are common.

Three religious leaders of different faiths were on the panel to present testimony from members of their community who have faced persecution in Eritrea.

1. Dr Berhane Asmelash, to discuss the persecution of Evangelical Protestants.
2. Sheik Mohamed Juma Aburashed, to discuss the persecution of Muslims.
3. Fr Shenouda Haile, to discuss the persecution of Orthodox Christians

During his presentation, Dr Asmelash explained how dozens of men and women he knew personally had been jailed and tortured for their faith. He told of a woman who had explained how she had been infected with HIV during repeated sexual abuses by her jailers.

Outlining the persecution faced by Eritrea’s Muslim communities, Sheik Aburashed told the meeting that there are now over 300 Muslim leaders in Eritrean jails. He further explained that praying and fasting was not allowed in some places in Eritrea and that this restriction applied to Christians as well as Muslims.

Fr Haile highlighted that Orthodox Christians are also persecuted by the Eritrean government. He mentioned that the church under President Isaias has been infiltrated and monitored, anyone who refuses to accept the government is labelled a “heretic” and monks have been forced to wear uniforms and perform military service.

Following the panel discussion, Lord Alton led an open discussion, including questions from the floor. It was noted that the systematic denial of religious freedom and entrenched human rights abuses in Eritrea cause untold human suffering, which alone should spur us to act. It was argued that European countries have a political interest in resolving the situation, as Eritreans make up one of the continent’s largest refugee populations – many of whom have fled due to religious persecution.

Among the recommendations to come from the meeting was a call for the UK government to champion the renewal of the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea bilaterally, at the European Union, and at the United Nations. The meeting also called for the UK government to put pressure on Eritrea to implement the UN Universal Periodic Review recommendations in a timely manner, and to enact the nation’s constitution, which was ratified in 1997.

In addition to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Eritrea, support was provided by: The APPG for International Freedom of Religion or Belief; Eritrea Focus; Christian Solidarity Worldwide; Open Doors UK&I; and Aid to the Church in Need.