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Eritrean Military Jails 75 Protestant Conscripts

LOS ANGELES, February 2 (Compass) – Eritrean military authorities jailed 75 Protestant Christians yesterday at the Sawa Military Training Camp for “reading Bibles and praying during their free time,” local sources in the small East Africa nation confirmed.

Most of the newly arrested evangelicals, 37 of them women, are student youths doing their compulsory national military service at Sawa, a remote center near Eritrea’s mountainous western border with Sudan.

According to confirmed reports, the 75 young conscripts put under “military detention and punishment” had not attempted to conduct any Christian meeting at Sawa or committed any other transgression of military law.

“In Sawa, to possess your own Bible and keep your personal devotion and loyalty to Christ is not allowed,” an Eritrean Christian told Compass. “This is considered an act of Christian extremism.”

Since May 2002, the repressive regime of President Isaias Afwerki has closed down all independent evangelical churches and refused to allow their members to meet anywhere for worship.

Although ordered to apply for legal registration, none of these churches have been granted government recognition. Evangelical believers caught by the police while gathering in their homes are arrested and detained, often held incommunicado for months without charges.

Nearly 1,800 Eritrean Christians are now believed to be under arrest because of their religious beliefs, held in police stations, military camps and prisons in 12 known locations across Eritrea. Among them are 28 clergymen.

The jailed Protestants are routinely subjected to physical beatings and severe psychological pressure to deny their religious beliefs. Police and military authorities continue to demand that the prisoners return to one of the three “official” Christian denominations recognized by the government.

But even those legally recognized denominations – the nation’s historic Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran churches – have come under government disfavor over the past year, incurring threats and even jailing by security police officials.