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Release Eritrea

Release Eritrea has learnt that only a handful of the Eritrean Christians who were captured from streets, homes and work places in Asmara last week have been released. Many are reportedly held at the 5th police station near Asmara Airport on the outskirts of the city. Among those still in custody are several single mothers, and concern is mounting for children whose welfare is being seriously jeopardised by the absence of parents.

The kale Hiwot Church ’s development project alone has lost at least 20 members of its staff, nearly the entire team, to the purges that occurred last week. A week after their arrest some members of this project were escorted to their work place in the Church’s offices by Eritrean security forces who carried out an inspection of documents and equipments including computers. It is to be remembered that a similar raid and inspection was carried out at the offices of the Rhema Church last week. It is unclear as to what security forces are looking for.

The arrest of the staff of the development project and the closure of their operational headquarters has serious implications for the numerous development and aid projects that were setup and managed by the Church. These include an orphanage with several hundred children, primary schools and pre school facilities and feeding projects serving many vulnerable people. Dr Berhane Asmelash, Director of Release Eritrea, said; ‘it saddens me to think that it is always the most vulnerable that are the first to suffer when things like this happen, whether it is the children of those imprisoned or the vulnerable people they were supporting it always hits those who deserve the protection of society first. I appeal to the government of Eritrea to see the senselessness of all this and rectify the situation as a matter of urgency’

The action of the government of Eritrea in this matter is in complete contradiction with the widely ratified constitution of the country which allows for freedom of conscience, religion, movement, assembly, organisation and expression of opinion (Article 19). Moreover, in Article 17, the Constitution stipulates the right to a fair and public trial, the presumption of innocence and the right of appeal. It also states that anyone arrested should be brought before a court of law within 48 hours of their arrest.

Eritrea has also acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, all of which contain provisions for, amongst other things, the right to freedom of religion.

Recently Eritrea became the first country to have sanctions applied under the US religious freedom law, when the US State Department notified congress that the state secretary had banned commercial export of defence articles to Eritrea .