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Eritrea Lacks Religious Freedom

All people are guided by certain core beliefs. And for the vast majority of the world’s population those beliefs are drawn from religious convictions. Religious freedom is cherished by most as a foundational human right, and restrictions on faith and practice are an affront to human dignity. So says the 2008 U.S. State Department International Religious Freedom Report.

Each year the report designates countries that have “engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom” as “Countries of Particular Concern.” Eritrea is one of nine such countries. The others are Burma, China, North Korea, Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Uzbekistan.

The Eritrean government severely restricts freedom of religion for groups that it has not registered and infringes on the independence of its registered groups. Following a 2002 decree that religious groups must register, the government closed all religious facilities not belonging to the country’s four main religious communities: the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Eritrea, and Islam.

The Eritrean government continues to harass, arrest, detain, torture, and kill members of evangelical groups, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and a reform movement within the Eritrean Orthodox Church. The government has failed to grant registration to any religious groups that applied for it in 2002. Religious meetings are restricted, and individuals are arrested during religious ceremonies, gatherings, and prayer meetings in private homes.

According to the 2008 International Religious Freedom Report, Eritrean authorities regularly harassed and detained members of minority religious groups. The government arrested numerous religious believers not affiliated with the four approved churches, and forced people to recant their faith as a condition of their release. According to some reports, over three-thousand religious detainees continue to be held without due process in harsh conditions.

The right to believe, or not to believe, without fear of government interference or restriction, is essential to human dignity and democracy. America’s support for religious freedom is grounded in its commitment to advance respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms worldwide, including in Eritrea.