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Religious Repression In Eritrea

According to the latest U.S. State Department International Religious Freedom Report, Eritrea’s record on religious liberty remains poor. In his introductory remarks, U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom John Hanford said, “Eritrea continued its race to the bottom with its abysmal record of abuses -- arresting, detaining, torturing, even killing some of its citizens for merely attempting to worship outside one of the four government-approved religions.” Those religions include the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Eritrea, Islam, and the Roman Catholic Church.

Following the 2002 government decree that all religious groups must register or cease all religious activities, religious facilities not belonging to the four officially recognized religious groups were forced to close. During the past year, the Eritrean government did not approve any registrations by religious groups, even from organizations that had met all the requirements. Authorities forbid what they consider to be radical forms of Islam and severely restrict many small Protestant churches, Baha’is, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Over the last year, there were reliable reports that authorities detained at least 125 members of unregistered religious groups without charges. According to non-governmental organizations, there are more than 3,000 Christians from unregistered groups in prison. These reports include 37 leaders and pastors of Pentecostal churches in detention, some for more that 3 years without due process. Some have paid the ultimate price for their faith. In September 2007, a 33-year-old woman was arrested at a church service of an unregistered denomination and was imprisoned for 18 months. She died in the Wi’a Military Training Center reportedly after being tortured by officials for refusing to recant her faith.

In 2004, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice designated Eritrea as a “Country of Particular Concern” for its severe violations of religious freedom. The country remains under that designation. The U.S. strongly believes that every individual should have the right to worship freely.