Home | News    Wednesday 27 February 2008

Eritrea releases 35 evangelical Christians

By Tesfa-alem Tekle

February 26, 2008 (ADDIS ABABA) — Security services in Eritrea released 35 evangelical Christians in the port city of Massawa over the weekend after holding them in custody for six weeks at a local police station, Christian News Today.com reported.

All the jailed Protestants were members of the government-banned Faith of Christ Church. The 35 men and women had been worshipping in a private home on January 6 when security officials raided the house and arrested those present.

The group was denied visitation rights while in police custody, although official charges were never filed against them. According to Protestant sources inside Eritrea, the Massawa Christians were released on Saturday February 16 morning.

Three days earlier, 10 members of the Full Gospel Church who had been incarcerated for five years in Assab’s notorious military prison were released on bail. The seven men and three women had been transferred from Assab to the Adi-Abyto prison six months ago.

Local sources confirmed this week that a senior pastor in the Kale Hiwot Church remains imprisoned in Asmara Police Station No. 5 since his arrest nearly five months ago. Pastor Oqbamichael Tekle-Haimanot was jailed last year on October 1.

Previously, he had been subjected to 10 months of solitary confinement and hard labor in the Sawa military camp to punish him for participating in a Protestant Christian wedding in Barentu on January 9, 2005.
Eritrea outlawed its rapidly growing independent Protestant churches in May 2002, closing their buildings and banning them from meeting together even in private homes.

Over the past five years, thousands of Protestant evangelicals have been jailed and severely tortured for months or even years for violating these bans and refusing to return to one of the nation’s three “official” churches: Orthodox, Catholic or Evangelical Lutheran.
None have been brought to trial, nor have formal charges been filed against them.

Last week local sources also reported the death in prison of the leader of some 70 Eritrean Muslims jailed for more than two years for opposing the government-installed mufti of Eritrea, Sheikh al-Amin Osman. Half of Eritrea’s population are from ethnic Muslim background.

Taha Mohammed Nur, believed to be in his late 60s, was one of six co-founders of the Eritrean Liberation Front and formerly a close associate of Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki.

According to a February 16 report by Gedab News, Nur’s family were summoned by government authorities to collect his body, with no explanation given as to when, where or how he died.

(ST)