Christian Deaths Mount in Eritrean Prisons
Three more believers die in military confinement centers in past four months
By Jeremy Reynalds
Three Christians incarcerated in military prisons for their faith have died in the past four months in Eritrea, including the Jan. 16 death of a 42-year-old man in solitary confinement, according to a Christian support organization.
Sources told Open Doors that Mehari Gebreneguse Asgedom died at the Mitire Military Confinement center from torture, and complications from diabetes. Asgedom was a member of the Church of the Living God in Mendefera. Sources said his death followed the disclosure this month of another death in the same prison.
Mogos Hagos Kiflom, 37, was said to have died as a result of torture he endured for refusing to recant his faith, according to Open Doors, but the exact date of his death was unknown. A member of Rhema Church, Kiflom is survived by his wife, child and mother.
Sources said incarcerated Christians from throughout Eritrea have been transferred to the Mitire prison in the countrys northeast. In 2002 the Eritrean regime outlawed religious activity except that of the Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran or Muslim religions.
In October, Open Doors learned of the death of Teklesenbet Gebreab Kiflom, 36, who died while imprisoned for his faith at the Wia Military Confinement center. He was reported to have died after prison commanders refused to give him medical attention for malaria.
In June 2008, 37-year-old Azib Simon died from untreated malaria as well. Weakened by torture Simon contracted malaria only a week before she died.
Together with the deaths this month, the confirmed number of Christians who have died while imprisoned for their faith in Eritrea now totals eight.
At the same time, the government of President Isaias Afwerki has stepped up its campaign against churches it has outlawed, earning it a spot on the U.S. Department of States list of worst violators of religious freedom.
Open Doors reported the government arrested 15 members of the Kale-Hiwot Church in Keren on Jan. 11, and before Christmas at least 49 leaders of unregistered churches in Asmara were rounded up over two weeks. Last November, 34 members of the Kale-Hiwot Church in Dekemhare were arrested.
Those arrested included members of the Church of the Living God, Medhaniel Alem Revival Group and the Philadelphia, Kale-Hiwot, Rhema, Full Gospel and Salvation by Christ churches, according to Open Doors. The church leaders names appeared on a government list of 180 people who were taken from their homes and work places.
In the November sweep, authorities arrested 65 members of the Kale-Hiwot Church in the towns of Barentu and Dekemhare, including 17 women. In Keren and Mendefera, 25 members of the Full Gospel Church were arrested, and 20 Christians belonging to the Church of the Living God in Mendefera and Adi-Kuala were arrested.
Church leaders in Eritrea told Open Doors that by mid-December, a total of 2,891 Christians, including 101 women, had been incarcerated for their faith.
On June 8 2008 it was reported that eight Christians held at the Adi-Quala prison were taken to medical emergency facilities as a result of torture by military personnel at the camp. Eritrean officials have routinely denied religious oppression exists in the country, saying the government is only enforcing laws against unregistered churches.
The government has denied all efforts by independent Protestant churches to register, and people caught worshipping outside the four recognized religious institutions, even in private homes, suffer arrest, torture and severe pressure to deny their faith. The Eritrean Orthodox Church and its flourishing renewal movement has also been subject to government raids.
Praying for Nations and National Leadership
Country profile: Eritrea
Eritrea emerged from its long war of independence in 1993 only to plunge once again into military conflict, first with Yemen and then, more devastatingly, with its old adversary, Ethiopia.
Today, a fragile peace prevails and Eritrea faces the gigantic tasks of rebuilding its infrastructure and of developing its economy after more than 30 years of fighting.
A former Italian colony, Eritrea was occupied by the British in 1941. In 1952 the United Nations resolved to establish it as an autonomous entity federated with Ethiopia as a compromise between Ethiopian claims for sovereignty and Eritrean aspirations for independence. However, 10 years later the Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie, decided to annex it, triggering a 32-year armed struggle.
This culminated in independence after an alliance of the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF) and a coalition of Ethiopian resistance movements defeated Haile Selassies communist successor, Mengistu Haile Mariam.
In 1993, in a referendum supported by Ethiopia, Eritreans voted almost unanimously for independence, leaving Ethiopia landlocked.
The two countries hardly became good neighbours, with the issues of Ethiopian access to the Eritrean ports of Massawa and Assab and unequal trade terms souring relations.
In 1998 border disputes around the town of Badme erupted into open hostilities. This conflict ended with a peace deal in June 2000, but not before leaving both sides with tens of thousands of soldiers dead. A security zone, patrolled by UN forces, separates the two countries.
The unresolved border issue compounds other pressing problems. These include Eritreas inability to provide enough food; two thirds of the population receive food aid. Moreover, economic progress is hampered by the proportion of Eritreans who are in the army rather than the workforce.
Full name: The State of Eritrea
Population: 5 million (UN, 2008)
Area: 117,400 sq km (45,300 sq miles)
Major languages: Tigrinya, Tigre, Arabic, English
Major religions: Islam, Christianity
Life expectancy: 56 years (men), 60 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 Nakfa = 100 cents
Main exports: Livestock, hides, sorghum, textiles, salt, light manufactures
GNI per capita: US $230 (World Bank, 2007)
President: Isaias Afewerki
Isaias Afewerki was elected president of independent Eritrea by the national assembly in 1993. He had been the de facto leader before independence.
Presidential elections, planned for 1997, never materialised. Eritrea is a one-party state, with the ruling Peoples Front for Democracy and Justice the only party allowed to operate.
Mr Afewerki has been criticised for failing to implement democratic reforms. His government has clamped down on its critics and has closed the private press.
Born in 1946 in Asmara, Isaias Afewerki joined the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) in 1966. He received military training in China the same year, then went on to be deputy divisional commander.
In 1970 he co-founded the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF) and in 1987 he was elected secretary-general of the organisation.
[i]Source: Intercessors Network[/i]
A good source for information on the persecuted church: