ERITREA: Intensive Persecution Fuels Refugee Crisis
The government of Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki is brutally totalitarian. In September 2001 it imprisoned all its critics and closed down all the independent media. A ban on 'non-traditional'worship came into force in May 2002, affecting some 20,000 believers in dozens of Protestant, Pentecostal and mission-based denominations. Since then police have been pulling members from prayer meetings, Bible studies and even wedding parties to face intimidation, beatings, arrest, incarceration and torture (even to death). Today more than 2,000 mostly Protestant Christians are incarcerated in appalling conditions purely because they are active members of banned 'non-traditional' fellowships.
Such persecution is perpetrated mainly because dictators like President Afwerki protect their power by repressing everything that could threaten it. Protestant Christianity is regarded as a particular threat because it is pro-liberty, missionary and global (with strong links to Western democracies). Also a long-held suspicion is the persecution in Eritrea may have involved a quid pro quo deal between the government and the influential Eritrean Orthodox Church to which some 40 percent of the population belong. In the early years of the persecution, Orthodox priests frequently led the police raids against the banned churches.
However, the situation has changed -- the persecution has broadened. After Orthodox Patriarch Abune Antonios complained about the government beating and arresting young people from the Orthodox Church's renewal movement, the government deposed the Patriarch in August 2005 and put him under house arrest. The government then appointed its own puppet, a compliant layman named Yoftahe Dimetros, to administer the Orthodox Church. He ruled that all tithes collected be deposited in a government account so the government can control all church finances. In April 2007 it installed a renegade bishop, Bishop Dioscoros, as the new Patriarch and disseminator of propaganda. Dozens of non-compliant priests have been excommunicated and several 'dissident' Orthodox and Catholic priests are now imprisoned alongside their Protestant and Pentecostal brethren. Compass Direct reports that Reporters Without Borders has identified government minister Naizghi Kiflu as 'the man within the government in charge of crushing the churches'.
Amnesty International has documented the torture inflicted on Eritreans imprisoned for their faith and has regularly appealed to Western governments to stop forcibly returning refugees to Eritrea. After Israel was inundated by 'a tsunami' of Sudanese and Eritrean refugees arriving via Egypt, Egypt was asked to intervene. But instead of accommodating the refugees, Egypt began shooting and forcibly deporting them. Sixteen refugees have been shot this year and in June 2008 Egypt forcibly deported some 1,000 Eritrean refugees, many of them Christians. On Sunday 29 June the Eritrean Democratic Alliance (EDA, the Opposition alliance in exile) condemned the deportations. The EDA said they had confirmation that a number of refugees returned to Eritrea had been sent to secret prisons, tortured to death or 'shot dead in front of their colleagues to terrorise others from further attempts of escape'. According to the EDA, Libya is also preparing to mass-deport hundreds of Eritrean refugees.
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