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Compass – Eritrean police arrested a bridal couple from the banned Hallelujah Church along with their 18 wedding guests on Sunday night, dragging them to jail because they are “Pentes” (Pentecostals), authorities said. The seven women and 13 men were attending a private wedding ceremony on September 4 in the home of the bride when Asmara police raided the house. Breaking into the traditional wedding tent of the groom, Mengesteab Tesfamariam, the police took him into custody along with his bride, Berekti Keshi Almaze, and their best men and bridesmaids. Jailed at Police Station No. 5 in Asmara , the 20 prisoners included two key leaders of the Hallelujah Church , Aklilu Habteab and Kashay Imbaye, as well as Zerit Gebreneguse, an evangelist in the Philadelphia Church .

The Hallelujah Church reportedly had taken careful precautions to avoid attracting the attention of local officials, who in recent months have escalated their raids on weddings conducted by Protestant congregations that have been closed. Sunday’s ceremony was conducted in a private home, with only a few close friends invited and none of the usual singing or other noticeable Christian activities. But somehow police learned about the wedding, arriving just as the ceremony was beginning. So far relatives and friends of the jailed guests have not been allowed access to the prisoners. A total of 17 Protestant pastors are now jailed in Eritrea , where worshippers from any Christian community outside the government-recognized Orthodox, Catholic or Lutheran churches have been subject to arrest since May 2002. At least 1,000 evangelical church members are known to be in custody in prisons, police stations and military confinement camps across Eritrea for refusing, after arrest, to sign documents recanting their faith. Many are held in solitary confinement and subjected to regular beatings and more severe forms of torture.

Meanwhile, Compass has confirmed that Abune Antonios, patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, remains “suspended from all his positions” and under house arrest. Local authorities have ordered the patriarch to limit his movements and religious activities between his residence and Asmara ’s St. Mary Orthodox Church, a 10-minute walk from his home.

Last week, however, Patriarch Antonios emerged from isolation to sign the public book of condolences for the sudden death of Foreign Minister Ali Said Abdella. According to several sources in Asmara , this temporary lifting of the patriarch’s house arrest was “a government trick” to deceive the Orthodox community into believing that the prelate was still presiding over church affairs…[Go To Full Story]