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Eritrea : A Caged People in Urgent Need of Global Action – and Prayers

ICC Note

“It is a very suppressed society; if you talk, you just disappear,”

11 December 2007 Eritrea (allAfrica.com)-The people of Africa’s youngest nation, 14-year-old Eritrea in the northeast, live as if locked up in a vast prison manned by a rogue communist regime.

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Prone to prolonged droughts, its economy destroyed by more than 30 years of war, Eritrea is one of the world’s poorest countries, with up to 60 percent of its 4.6 million people surviving on less than a dollar a day.

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Not even the Church has been spared. Last month, the regime refused to renew the entry visas of 14 Catholic missionaries, ordering them out. A source told CISA the move is part of “a nationwide campaign to neutralize, paralyze, isolate and nationalize the Catholic Church.”

But the expulsion is also a cruel attack on poor Eritreans who depended for survival on projects run by the missionaries. The projects will most certainly collapse, as the local Church cannot sustain them.

The regime is one of the leading abusers of religious freedom worldwide, with as many as 2,000 mostly evangelical Christians languishing in detention for their faith. The state recognizes only four religions: Orthodox, Catholicism, Lutheran and Islam.

Suppressed society

It is not easy to get an accurate picture of the situation in Eritrea . Even Eritrean exiles are silenced by the fear of having their relatives harassed back home by the government should they speak out.

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“It is a very suppressed society; if you talk, you just disappear,” our source said. “There are militias all over. You see, almost everyone is a military person. In every village you will find militias. It is very well-organized. You cannot say anything.”

The government has clamped down on its critics and all independent media. There are no civil society groups. State media specialize in entertainment and propaganda, especially against the country’s ‘enemies’: Ethiopia , the United Nations, the international community, non-registered churches.

Human rights violations are rampant, including compulsory, unending military service for persons under 40, even for priests and religious. The state harasses parents whose children flee the country in search of opportunity.

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A few graduates are enrolled in state colleges while the rest go for further military training. Soldiers are not paid, but receive a small allowance. Many of them have families, as parents urge sons to marry before they are recruited. Girls also marry or have children early to avoid conscription.

Killing enterprise

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A government decree allowing every vehicle only 30 litres of fuel a month has also hampered the Church’s pastoral work.

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After 14 years of independence, many people must be questioning the real value of their hard-won freedom – but only silently. “Eritreans are so quiet you would think they have no problems,” our source said.

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