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Amnesty says Eritrea deepens religious persecution

Reuters

Eritrea has stepped up repression of religious freedom, sometimes using torture against members of minority faiths, Amnesty International said on Wednesday [December 8].

In Asmara , the government of the Red Sea state flatly denied the Amnesty allegations.

The Amnesty report said that in the last three years the government had detained at least 26 pastors and priests, 1,750 evangelical church members and dozens of Muslims.

Amnesty detailed 44 separate incidents of religious persecution since April 2003, after a May 2002 decree ordered groups to register or stop their religious activities.

With the population split roughly 50-50 between Islam and Christianity, as in neighbouring Ethiopia , the Eritrean government is said to be concerned at the possible impact of proselytising religions.

But the authorities strongly deny persecuting anyone on the basis of faith.

In Asmara , the government dismissed the Amnesty report.

“We cannot run every day after such unsubstantiated fabrications,” Information Minister Ali Abdu told Reuters.

Four religious groups — thought to represent more than 95 percent of the 3.6 million population — are registered in Eritrea : the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church , and Islam.

“Since 2002 … many members (of evangelical churches) have been tortured in an attempt to force them to stop worshipping and to thereby abandon their faith,” it said.

The report echoed a U.S. State Department report on human rights in Eritrea which said last month that the country’s “poor record on freedom for minority religious groups continued to worsen”.

The U.S. report also said that the overwhelming majority of Eritreans were highly tolerant of other religions and were able to worship freely.

But in September the United States banned the commercial export of some defence items to Eritrea under U.S. legislation enabling Washington to impose sanctions on countries with worrying records on religious freedom.

The sanctions are not expected to have a significant impact, but they drew an angry response from the Information Ministry.

“This condescending and coercive attitude did not work for al Qaeda in Eritrea and will not work for anybody else who wishes to destabilise Eritrea in the name of religion,” it said in a statement on Oct. 12.