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Thousands Demonstrate In Netherlands Against Eritrea Crackdown On Believers

10 November 2006

BosNewsLife

THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS Up to 2,000 Christian protestors gathered in front of the Eritrean embassy in the Dutch town of The Hague early Friday, November 10, to demand the release of about 2,000 fellow believers, most of them evangelicals, who they say are imprisoned across Eritrea for their faith.

55,000 ‘protest cards’ in 15 bags, signed by Christians in Belgium and the Netherlands , were due to be presented to Eritrean diplomats later in the day. “The only ‘crime’ of the jailed Eritrean Christians was that they practiced their faith by singing with each other, praying and reading the Bible,” said Jeno Sebok, spokesman of Christian rights group Open Doors, which organized the rally.

Many Christians gather in private homes since May 2002, when Eritrea closed down all independent religious groups not operating under the umbrella of the government-sanctioned Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran or Muslim faiths.

Independent Protestant churches, and especially evangelical groups, have been refused legal registration, but even the Orthodox Church’s Patriarch Abune Antonius has been place under house arrest while his reportedly flourishing renewal movement has fallen out of favor, church leaders say.

PATRIARCH ARRESTED

The government has reportedly condemned Antonius for refusing to allow state interference in church affairs. This month Eritrean authorities released Helen Berhane, an Eritrean Gospel singer who was jailed since May 2004, but at least 2,077 people, most of them Christians, are still jailed for their religious faith, Christian rights activists say.

Many of them have been held in shipping containers and military camps, according to several human rights groups including Amnesty International. In The Hague , Open Doors activists attempted to place a container filled with 2,000 air balloons symbolizing those imprisoned nearby the Eritrean embassy. A delegation of Eritrean Christians dressed in traditional clothing were also seen among the demonstrators, with Dutch police arranging traffic.

It was not immediately clear if the Eritrean ambassador would meet representatives of the demonstrators later Friday, November 10. Eritrea ‘s government has so far denied human rights abuses, saying that “no groups or persons” are persecuted in the African country for their beliefs or religion.

However Eritrean President Isaias Afworki has been quoted as saying that several religious groups have been “duped by foreigners” who sought to “distract from the unity of the Eritrean people and distort the true meaning of religion.”