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Christian Dies in Eritrean Military Jail

Torture, illness claim life of believer denied medical treatment unless he recanted.

February 22 (Compass Direct News) – An Eritrean Christian died in prison last week, four and a half years after the Eritrean regime jailed him for worshipping in a banned Protestant church.

From the southern port city of Assab , local Christians confirmed the death of Magos Solomon Semere on Thursday (February 15) at the Adi-Nefase Military Confinement facility just outside Assab.

According to one source, Semere, 30, died “due to physical torture and persistent pneumonia, for which he was forbidden proper medical treatment.” He had reportedly endured a long period of severe illness in the months prior to his death.

A member of the Rema Church , Semere had first been jailed in the fall of 2001, when he was arrested for evangelizing and starting meetings for worship with six other Christians.

“The government gave hard-labor work punishment to believers for preaching the gospel and starting fellowships,” a Christian once jailed in Assab with Semere told Compass. “If they persisted, they would be kept imprisoned for ‘violating’ the government law.”

Semere had been released after 18 months in prison, only to be re-arrested three months later with a large group of Protestants caught worshipping together in July 2002.

When Semere became seriously ill, the source said, he was told to sign a statement renouncing his faith in order to get medical treatment. “He refused to do so,” his former jailmate said, “but three other people signed, and they got released.”

Semere had been engaged to marry shortly before his July 2002 arrest, but he was refused permission to see his fiancée again during his years in prison.

Despite all the government warnings delivered to Semere, his former fellow prisoner said, “Magos was determined to obey the Lord rather than men.”

Semere’s death is the third known killing of a Christian for his faith since last October. On October 17, 2006, Eritrean security police tortured two Christians to death, two days after arresting them for holding a religious service in a private home south of Asmara. Immanuel Andegergesh, 23, and Kibrom Firemichel, 30, died from torture wounds and severe dehydration in a military camp outside the town of Adi-Quala ,

Crackdown in Assab

Assab, near the facility where Semere died, was targeted for one of the first major crackdowns against Protestant Christians by Eritrean security forces five years ago.

Three months later, in May 2002, the government categorically outlawed all churches not under the umbrella of the Orthodox, Catholic or Evangelical Lutheran denominations.

In the initial police raids in Assab on February 17, 2002, 133 congregants attending Sunday morning worship services at the city’s Full Gospel, Rema and Word of Life churches were arrested. Although all were released the next day, the 74 soldiers among them were rearrested two weeks later.

Refused contact with their families, the soldiers were punished with severe floggings and other forms of extreme torture for months, often kept in tiny dark cells. Most still remain jailed without charges, subjected to hard labor without any hope of release.

Since then, dozens more soldiers and other Christians from Pentecostal and charismatic churches caught worshipping in homes or small groups in and around Assab have been jailed. At least 130 Christians are believed to be imprisoned now in Assab’s military and civil prisons for refusing to sign documents recanting their faith.

Ten More Arrested

On Sunday (February 18) afternoon security police in Asmara arrested 10 Eritrean Christians who were visiting a private home in the Teravelo district of Asmara to congratulate a new bride and groom after their wedding.

Seven members of the Medhan Alem renewal movement, a Sunday School ministry within the Eritrea Orthodox Church, and three members of the Full Gospel Church were taken into custody. The newly married couple, who were just concluding their honeymoon, were not jailed.

The occasion was described by Christians in the capital as “a normal social visit of friends, not for the purpose of having worship or other church activities.” Six of the 10 new prisoners are women.

More than 2,000 Eritrean citizens are known to be jailed under severe mistreatment in police stations, military camps and prisons in at least 14 cities and towns solely for their religious beliefs.

Although most of those jailed are Christians, a number of Jehovah’s Witnesses and leaders of the Muslim community have also been imprisoned incommunicado for a year or more without judicial charges.

For the past 18 months, the regime of President Isaias Afwerki has extended its religious repression to interfere openly in the internal affairs of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, deposing its patriarch and taking over the church’s administrative and financial controls.