ICC Note: Eritrean priest Don Zerai opens up about the intense persecution Christians are facing in his home country. He says there are so many Christians trying to flee areas where they are being mistreated in Ethiopia and Eritrea, along with labor migrants, that something like the ISIS video could happen again. Zerai says Christians are jailed and prevented from publishing Christian materials in Eritrea, among other persecutions.
By Amanda Griffin and Marta Petrosillo
4/27/15 Eritrea (ACN News) – “It is a tragedy that could easily happen again. There are many other migrants in the hands of Isis.” The words are those of Don Mussie Zerai, an Eritrean priest, who was speaking to the Italian office of the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) about the recent murder of around 30 Ethiopian and Eritrean Christians by the terrorists of these so-called Islamic State (IS) – a murder the terrorists themselves portrayed in a video they posted on 19 April.
Don Zerai is the founder and president of the agency Habeshia and is known for his work in defense of the asylum seekers and migrants who are trying to escape the wars, dictatorships, terrorism and persecution in their own countries. It is work that in recent months has brought him nomination as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.
“The people who were murdered by the jihadists were hoping to be able to start a new life and receive protection in Europe”, he remarks. There are many other Christians like them, who are braving long and difficult journeys, often precisely to escape persecution. But during their journey they encounter yet more serious discrimination on account of their faith. “In the detention camps in Libya the Christians are always discriminated against and maltreated,” Father Zerai tells ACN. “Just a few days ago I was told how, in one centre in Misurata, the Christians are being forced to pray and fast during Ramadan along with the Muslims – but with this difference: when the sun sets, the Muslim detainees are given food, but the Christians are denied even this right.”
However, with regard to the tragic incident of the 12 Christians who were thrown into the sea in the straits of Sicily on 14th of April, Father Zerai urges caution. “The precise facts have not yet been established by the magistrates, and this is the first time that we have heard of religious discrimination among the migrants on the boats themselves. I hope that it is not true; otherwise it would be terrible.”
Among the Christian migrants murdered by the Islamic State there were at least three Eritreans, who were identified in the video published by the jihadists. Don Zerai also spoke about the persecution being suffered by Christians in his own country, which is sometimes called, not without reason, the “North Korea of Africa”. According to the most recent report by ACN on religious freedom, there are believed to be at least 1,200 Christians imprisoned for religious reasons. “Many Christian leaders, above all among the Pentecostals, have been arrested and tortured and several of them have died in prison. Even the canonically elected Orthodox patriarch is being held under house arrest and has been replaced by a ‘patriarch’ close to the regime.