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Two Eritrean Christians Tortured to Death

Arrested at worship service with 10 others; Christian singer sent back to prison.

Compass Direct News

October 18 – Eritrean security police tortured two Christians to death yesterday, two days after arresting them for holding a religious service in a private home south of Asmara.

The deaths came just after officials detained a U.S. citizen and re-imprisoned a popular Christian singer who was hospitalized as a result of spending 29 months in a metal shipping container.

Immanuel Andegergesh, 23, and Kibrom Firemichel, 30, died from torture wounds and severe dehydration in a military camp outside the town of Adi-Quala , eyewitnesses told Compass.

The military buried the two unmarried men yesterday in the southern Eritrean town near the Ethiopian border, where they had been performing their military service.

Andegergesh and Firemichel were arrested on Sunday (October 15), along with 10 other Christians, while attending a worship service in the home of Teklezgi Asgerdom.

The three women and seven men, all members of the evangelical Rema Church , were kept in military confinement, along with Andegergesh and Firemichel, and subjected to “furious mistreatment,” one source said.

The fate of the 10 other Christians remains unknown.

Singer Returned to Detention

Earlier this month, Eritrean authorities returned popular Christian singer Helen Berhane to military detention after she spent three days in Asmara ’s Halibet Hospital for medical treatment.

Berhane’s leg was seriously damaged as a result of beatings she received while imprisoned in a metal shipping container since her arrest in May 2004.

Sources told Compass that Berhane, a member of the Kidane Mehrete Fellowship (previously misreported as the Rema Church ), has been transferred back to Mai-Serwa Military Camp and now is able to walk with the help of a cane.

The government has continued its campaign against Christian workers, jailing a U.S. citizen earlier this month.

Evangelical Aregahaje Woldeselasie and his assistant, a married man identified only as Mushie, have been held in Asmara ’s Police Station 5 since their arrest on October 4.

An Eritrean-born U.S. citizen in his early 60s, Woldeselasie has been working with Nehemiah Ministry International in Eritrea since 1991, providing leadership training to new congregations.

At the time of his arrest, Woldeselasie’s wife and two children were in the United States .

Schools Targeted

In its apparent campaign to bring all religious groups under its control, the government of Eritrea has recently focused its efforts on schools run by religious groups.

On October 10, the Ministry of Education ordered the Finnish Mission School to turn over its administration and assets to the government.

Founded by the Finnish Mission 15 years ago, “it was one of the private schools in Eritrea where students were taught the fear of the Lord,” a Christian source commented.

Sources have told Compass that the main reason the government took control of the school was that they did not like its Christian character.

The Ministry of Education has also demanded that the Alumni Arabic School , a private Muslim institution, be made into a public institution. Formerly known as the Jalia Arabic School , Alumni taught Arabic and Quran courses to the children of Eritrea ’s Muslim community.

In addition, the government has pressured the Evangelical [Lutheran] Church of Eritrea (ECE) to close down Asmara ’s Anglican elementary school.

Eritrea had placed the Anglican congregation under the government-registered ECE control after ordering the city’s Anglican priest, the Rev. Nelson Fernandez, out of the country in October 2005.

Since then, rumors have circulated that the government would close down the elementary school, which was mainly attended by the children of foreign workers associated with the church.

Along with the decision to close the school, Eritrea ’s Department of Religious Affairs has also ordered an elderly church warden to immediately vacate her home, located on church premises.

Since May 2002, the Eritrean government has banned all independent religious groups not under the umbrella of the Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran or Muslim faiths. All independent Protestant churches have been denied legal registration and outlawed.

Everyone caught worshipping outside these government-sanctioned institutions – even in small handfuls in private homes – is arrested, tortured or subjected to severe pressures to deny their religious beliefs.

Even leaders of the four historically recognized groups are experiencing harsh government restrictions. Ignoring church canons, local lay authorities removed the ordained patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church from his ecclesiastical position in August 2005. Patriarch Abune Antonios has been held under house arrest ever since.

Recently confirmed statistics indicate that at least 1,918 Eritrean citizens are jailed solely for their religious beliefs, without any access to judicial process.

For the third year in a row, the U.S. State Department named Eritrea a “Country of Particular Concern” in its annual religious freedom report last month, designating it one of the worst violators of religious freedom in the world.