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Thousands of Eritrean Christians Behind Bars This Christmas

24 December 2006

BosNewsLife News

ASMARA , ERITREA (BosNewsLife)– An estimated 2,000 Christians spent Christmas Eve behind bars in Eritrea and there were fresh reports that even government-backed churches have come under pressure.

Human rights workers have described Eritrea as “a mass of detention centers.”

Prisons are so overcrowded that airport hangars, police stations, containers and “other unsuitable accommodation function as long or short term holding cells for the country’s burgeoning population of detainees,” UK-based advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide claimed.

The Eritrean government has denied the freedom of religion violations, despite closing all churches in 2002 except the Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Lutheran denominations.

ORTHODOX CHURCH

“In recent months, however, even these approved churches have come under pressure from the authorities. In January 2006, the government removed the patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church and appointed their own person to the position,” said Voice Of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC), a major human right group investigating the situation.

It comes amid reports that the government ordered this month that “all tithes must be deposited into a government-controlled account from which priests would be paid.”

The government is restricting the number of priests allowed in each parish, VOMC and other Christian observers said.

VOMC said in a statement received by BosNewsLife that there have also been reports that nine truck drivers working for the Christian relief organization, Samaritan’s Purse, were arrested on December 4 as they were driving toward the Eritrean-Sudanese border.

CUSTODY CONTINUES

“The drivers, most of them known to be evangelical Christians, remain in custody in Police Station No. 6 in Asmara ,” VOMC said.

Last month, Samaritan’s Purse was reportedly ordered to leave the country. It is the 11th international aid organization known to be expelled from Eritrea this year.

In published remarks, Eritrean officials said the expulsions were to protect the country from dependency on foreign aid. VOMC said it has urged its supporters to “Pray that these attacks against Christians will cease” and that “Eritrean believers will be able to meet together despite opposition.”