Tag: Eritrea

Eritrea Steps Up Christian Arrests – 200 Inc Children Behind Bars

Release launches campaign to free Eritrea’s prisoners of faith.

Eritrea has now arrested 200 Christians in house-to-house raids, in a tough new crackdown which is tearing children from their parents. Young children and a baby are among those arrested. It’s feared they could spend their childhood in a prison cell. Release International is calling on Eritrea to free the Christians and has launched a campaign calling for concerted prayer for Eritrea’s prisoners of faith.

Security forces in Eritrea have been going house-to-house arresting Christians. They have rounded up 177 adults, along with some 20 small children. The arrests are continuing and many Christians have gone into hiding.

Release International partner Dr Berhane Asmelash says rounding up Christians door-to-door is a new tactic that signals a worsening of the crackdown. He believes the single-party state is taking a tough new line against the church.

‘People used to be arrested for conducting unauthorised meetings, such as Bible studies or prayers. But this is new for us when they go from house to house. They are arresting people for their beliefs, not for their actions. This is getting worse. Many Christians are in hiding.

‘Security forces in different towns went from house to house asking people their religion. If they were outside the [state sanctioned] Lutheran, Catholic, Muslim and Orthodox faiths, they arrested them.

‘Twelve children were arrested with their parents, and some parents were forced to leave their underage children unattended.’

Children who are too young to be separated from their mothers face being brought up in jail unless their parents are released. They include a two-month old baby.

Dr Asmelash was himself arrested and tortured in what is today called Eritrea. These latest arrests, he said, have brought fear to the Christian community. ‘People are scared.’

In 2002 Eritrea outlawed many Christian denominations and shut down Evangelical and Pentecostal churches. Christians who refused to renounce their faith were jailed indefinitely without trial.

173 long-term prisoners of faith remain behind bars in brutal conditions. They include many church leaders. The latest clampdown began in May and has continued into June, as security forces seize Christians for being members of banned denominations.

Eritrean Christians around the world are praying and fasting.

‘Eritrea today is like one giant prison where hope has disappeared and where the majority of people are denied simple freedoms, basic human dignity and human rights,’ says Paul Robinson, the CEO of Release International which supports persecuted Christians.

‘We are calling for the urgent release of all Christian prisoners of faith in Eritrea, including the 173 who have been detained in appalling conditions for more than 10 years.’

Release is also asking Christians in the UK and Ireland to download and sign a postcard calling for the prisoners to be set free, and send it to the Eritrean Embassy in London.

The postcard urges ‘the immediate and unconditional release of all Christian prisoners of faith, many of whom have now been detained in jail for ten years or more. These prisoners are law-abiding citizens who provide no threat to your government.’

‘We are asking Eritrea to act compassionately towards these prisoners, many of whom have suffered ill-health while in prison,’ says Paul Robinson. ‘And we are asking Christians here to make a pledge to pray for Eritrea’s suffering prisoners of faith for 173 days,’ he adds.

Source: Cross Rhythms : Release International



Christians Among Most Persecuted People in the World, Watchdog Groups Warn

As the world marks the U.N.’s International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of Genocide, persecution watchdog groups are warning that Christians continue to be some of the most widely targeted people.

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People hold crosses and signs during a rally organized by Iraqi Christians living in Germany denouncing what they say is repression by the Islamic State militant group against Christians living in Iraq, in Berlin, Aug. 17, 2014.

“Ahead of Genocide Prevention Day on Dec. 9, Christian Solidarity Worldwide is calling for the perpetrators of crimes against humanity in North Korea and Eritrea to be held to account,” CSW said in a short statement. Last year, the day was officially designated to raise awareness for the 1948 Genocide Convention, which seeks to prevent and punish genocide.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said that “Member states and the international community must honour the suffering of the victims of genocide, and of their families, by working even harder against expressions of hatred, intolerance, racism and xenophobia.”

As CSW notes, North Korea has been one of the worst and one of the most secretive persecutors of Christians and other people, with prison camps across the country holding thousands of political prisoners.

Open Doors USA is another watchdog group that has reported on the murder, torture, rape, and other atrocities that everyone deemed a threat to Kim Jong Un’s regime faces, with untold numbers of Christians being punished for things like reading or possessing a Bible.

“There were over 70,000 Christians that were imprisoned for their faith this year. You have executions — we don’t know how many, but we know of enough. There has been no let up in persecution in North Korea,” Open Doors CEO David Curry told The Christian Post back in January.
Top 7 Nations With Worst Record of Christian Persecution: Report
Christians in the Middle East, especially those in Iraq and Syria, have been facing genocide at the hands of the Islamic State and other terror groups, suffering beheadings, enslavement, forced conversions into Islam, and being driven out of their ancestral communities.

Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, warned at an interfaith panel in New York last week that this massacre, along with people’s indifference toward it, is reminiscent of other major genocides in the past that still haunt the world today.

“Today we are witnessing the world’s indifference to the slaughter of Christians in the Middle East and Africa,” Lauder said at the panel, according to Catholic News Service.

“Since 1945, genocide has occurred again and again. ‘Never Again!’ has become hollow. You can’t just declare genocide and say the job is done. You have to back it up with action.

“Jews know what happens when the world is silent to mass slaughter. We learned it the hard way,” he added, referring to the genocide of Jews and other minorities during World War II.

The conflict in South Sudan is another ongoing crisis affecting many Christians, Vox noted.

When the country achieved independence from the Muslim-majority Republic of the Sudan, it was hailed as a victory by a number of Christian groups in the United States, but ethnic divisions have since been ripping the new country apart.

“There is already a steady process of ethnic cleansing underway in several areas of South Sudan using starvation, gang rape and the burning of villages; everywhere we went across this country we heard villagers saying they are ready to shed blood to get their land back,” said Yasmin Sooka, chairperson of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, after a 10-day visit this year.

“Many told us it’s already reached a point of no return,” she added.

Source: The Christian Post



Migrant crisis: 28 dead in day of rescues off Libya

More than 20 migrants are said to have suffocated in the hold of an overloaded boat off the Libyan coast.

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The Italian coastguard said it rescued 4,655 people on Tuesday, as calmer weathers encourage smugglers

 

A photographer who was able to board the stricken wooden vessel said more than 1,000 migrants had been crammed aboard.

They were among at least 28 migrants who died in the area on Tuesday, while some 4,655 people were rescued.

The total number rescued over the past two days is more than 10,000, while the death toll is at least 50.

Smugglers have taken advantage of calm weather to push more boats out to sea.

Aris Messinis, a photographer for the French AFP news agency, said many of the dead aboard one particular boat had suffocated.

He said: “It was a wooden vessel and there were about 1,000 people on three levels. I counted 22 bodies and there are still others in the hold.”

Mr Messinis’s graphic images showed the bodies of dead young men and women, piled on top of one another on the deck of a dinghy and in the cramped hold of a wooden boat.

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A photographer who boarded one of the boats said he counted at least 22 bodies in a hold

On Monday, 6,055 migrants were rescued – one of the highest numbers in a single day – and 22 found dead, Italian and Libyan officials said. One Italian ship rescued about 725 migrants from a single rubber boat, the coastguard said – just one of 20 rescue operations that day.

Relatively calm weather is contributing to a surge in the number of people attempting to make the crossing before the cold weather sets in.

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Boats are overloaded by people smugglers, suffocating migrants and causing the vessels to capsize

The surge takes the number of migrants who have arrived in Italy this year to about 142,000 and the death toll to about 3,100, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

The majority come from African countries, including Nigeria, Eritrea, Guinea, Gambia, Sudan, Ivory Coast and Somalia.

European law says migrants must stay in the country where they first enter the EU. With fewer migrants able to travel into Europe via Greece and the Balkan route, and France, Switzerland and Austria effectively closing their borders, Italy is struggling to deal with the growing numbers landing on its shores.

Monday marked three years to the day since 366 migrants died when an overcrowded boat sank off the Italian coast, in a disaster that first drew widespread attention to the plight of those attempting to reach Europe by sea.

Source: BBC News



Rising Islamist militancy across Sahel belt threatens African Christianity

As the world focusses on potential military advances against the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, it risks overlooking another vast region where militant Islam is a growing threat to the Church – in the continent where the Church is growing fastest: Africa.

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More than 70 churches, as well as Christian homes, schools and orphanages,were burned down by Islamists in Niger in January 2015. World Watch Monitor

As the world focusses on potential military advances against the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, it risks overlooking another vast region where militant Islam is a growing threat to the Church – in the continent where the Church is growing fastest: Africa.
Amongst other factors, the chaos in Libya since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi – characterised by easy access to weapons of all sorts combined with the increasing presence of jihadists – has had a spill-over effect into Africa’s vast Sahel region. This spans the African continent from Senegal in the west to western Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia in the east. (The ‘Sahel’ describes the ecological and geographic region between the Sahara Desert and the humid and fertile savannah belt north of Africa’s tropical rainforest).

The most dramatic example of this Islamist militancy is in northern Mali, where Islamist militants and foreign fighters made common cause with Tuareg rebels to take over a large portion of the country in 2012. For most of the year, until the French military were forced to intervene, armed Islamist groups ruled the region, banning the practice of other religions and desecrating and looting churches and other places of worship.

In addition to the main group involved then, the jihadist Ansar Dine, other militant groups active in the Sahel region include Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Boko Haram and Islamic State (IS).

A new report from Open Doors International, a charity providing support to the global Church under pressure, shows that the rise of Islamist militancy in the region is undermining freedom of religion. According to the report, puritanical and militant versions of Islam (particularly Salafism/Wahhabism) are increasingly taking root – in a manner that reflects recent developments in the rest of the world – as a result of Islamist missionaries and NGOs from the Middle East, funded by (until recently) oil-rich Gulf States like Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Fertile ground

The Sahel, which encompasses parts of Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia, has been predominantly Muslim for centuries. Due to a mix of environmental, demographic, economic and political factors, all the states that exist in this region are very fragile.

Troops from Mali and Niger, supported by their French counterparts, conduct regular joint operations to hunt for militants in the western part of the region.

The report indicates that the Islamist groups in the region are very hostile to Christianity and show this through violent acts. Northern Mali has witnessed violent attacks against Christians and churches – notably in 2012, during jihadist occupation. There have also been a series of abductions by jihadist groups, which kidnap Christian workers not only to finance operations through demanding ransoms, but also to deter Christians from working in the region. The Swiss missionary, Beatrice Stockly, kidnapped in Timbuktu in January, is still being held hostage by AQIM.

In neighbouring Niger, Islamists burned down more than 70 churches, as well as Christian homes, schools and orphanages, in a series of arson attacks in January 2015.

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The remains of a car used in a suicide attack in Niger’s northern town of Agadez; May 2013 World Watch Monitor

Rampant radicalization

Islamist groups in the Sahel, like others elsewhere, don’t tolerate other Muslims who adhere to a version of Islam different from their own. Violence and terror is their preferred modus operandi. The report suggests that any further increase in their numbers and influence would add to the difficulties Christians are facing.

Even if these groups do not succeed in imposing Sharia and establishing Islamic “caliphates” at a national level, they will still contribute to the overall radicalisation of the population and the spread of an extremist and intolerant version of Islam, says the report. It says this has created an environment in which any Christian outreach ministry – not to mention the very existence of the Church itself – faces violent resistance.

The radical militancy of jihadist groups in the Sahel is also spilling over further south and giving rise to terrorist attacks in predominantly Christian parts of West Africa, notes the report. The attack on the Grand-Bassam resort in Ivory Coast (March 2016) has highlighted the vulnerability of these countries.

In the long-term, unless these groups are defeated, it is very likely that they will intensify their campaign of terrorism and violence in southern Nigeria and other West African countries which have thus far been relatively spared from terrorist activism, warns the report.

It concludes that the situation for Christians in the Sahel is precarious. It says the region is becoming a new major hotspot for Islamist groups, many of which have allied themselves to international terror franchises like IS and al-Qaeda. It is very important that the countries in the region strengthen their cooperation against these militant groups, says the report, adding that countries outside the region capable of providing assistance should also help.

In addition to robust and decisive military action, the report says it is also important not to adopt a purely one-dimensional approach. The socio-economic and political realities in the region, of which the militant groups take advantage, also need to be transformed, it says. It is only when these underlying realities are changed that Christians and non-Christians will be able to enjoy security and freedom in the region.

Source: World Watch Monitor



Eritrean church leaders still in jail 12 years later

Although the tiny East African nation of Eritrea has a population of just 6 million, Eritrea is one of the leading sources of refugees in Europe. There are many reasons for this, but chief among them is a lack of religious freedom.

The Eritrean government outlawed worship outside of Islam and the Orthodox, Evangelical Lutheran and Roman Catholic Church in 2002, driving all other Christian churches underground as they faced varying degrees of restrictions and attacks. Since then, thousands of Christians have been arrested and incarcerated without benefitting from a legal process. Among them are a number of prominent church leaders arrested in 2004, who remain incarcerated today, almost 12 years later. World Watch Monitor spoke with the family of one of these prisoners.

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Haile Naigzhi. World Watch Monitor

Haile Naigzhi.

Haile Naigzhi, leader of Eritrea’s Full Gospel Church, was arrested during the early hours of 23 May, 2004. He was taken from his home to Police Station #1 in Asmara, then moved to Wongel Mermera – a dungeon-like prison in Asmara, where he still resides, alongside at least five other prominent church leaders (see list below). They have little hope of release any time soon.

For years following Naigzhi’s arrest, his wife and three children (names withheld to protect their identity) waited for his release. In 2013, his wife received credible information that the government wanted to arrest her and the children, so she decided to flee.

As World Watch Monitor reported last year, the journey out of Eritrea is fraught with danger. Movement in Eritrea is heavily controlled through an internal travel-pass system and checkpoints; anyone trying to cross the border can be shot on sight. If you make it past those first two hurdles, you reach the desert, exposed to the unforgiving elements and lawless human traffickers. Whatever destination you aim for after that could see you either crossing the Mediterranean on a rickety boat or dodging deportation from African countries with diplomatic and ideological ties to the Eritrean government.

World Watch Monitor cannot divulge the details of the Naigzhi family’s journey, nor where they ended up, but today they are settled in a new country, where they have been granted asylum.

“We feel safer here,” said Naigzhi’s wife. “We are able to freely serve God. I am also happy because the children are in a good school.”

But their 19-year-old daughter misses home. “Ever since we left our country, things have dramatically changed in a way we didn’t know they would. I knew the moment we left that we would have an uphill battle until we are able one day to go back home again. And it was all true.”

Naigzhi’s wife added: “I miss my husband dearly. It is very lonely for me.”

Their eldest daughter last saw her father when she was seven, whereas the youngest son (13) does not remember a time when they were all together.

The other boy, 17, last saw his father when he was five and confessed to also feeling homesick.

“I miss home, I miss my friends, and I miss our house,” he said.

“It is difficult, but we hold on to Jesus,” said Naigzhi’s wife.

Her daughter added: “We learnt that having a ‘bed-of-roses’ kind of life on earth is not actually God’s number one plan for us, but that everything we face in this world shapes our spirits into the beautiful spirit the Lord wishes to see in us. I am happy in every way and most especially to be the daughter of the Most High God. I am also happy to be the daughter of a prisoner for Christ. He is the best dad ever! God will make things perfect one day, and I trust Him with all my heart. He is faithful to keep His word.”

Eritrea is No. 3 on Open Doors’ 2016 World Watch List, which ranks the 50 countries in which it is most difficult to live as a Christian. No-one knows for certain how many Christians remain in the elaborate network of incarceration centres in Eritrea. Although there seems to have been a lull in arrests, pressure remains high on Christians and on society in general. Thousands are still intent on fleeing the country, the majority aiming for Europe. Hundreds have died trying.

Incarcerated church leaders

Abune Antonios

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Patriarch Abune Antonios. World Watch Monitor

Head of the Orthodox Church, removed from his position in 2007 after criticising the Eritrean government for interference in church activities. Two priests accompanied by government security agents entered the Patriarch’s residence and confiscated his personal pontifical insignia. He was replaced by Abune Dioskoros – a development orchestrated by the Eritrean government. Patriarch Antonios, who has never been charged with any offence, remains under house arrest and strict state surveillance.

Ogbamichael Teklehaimanot

Senior pastor of the Kale Hiwot Church. Arrested for participating in a Protestant wedding ceremony in Barentu on 9 January, 2005. Taken to Asmara Police Station No. 5, then subjected to 10 months of solitary confinement and hard labour at Sawa military camp. Released after six years, then re-arrested six months later, after a fleeing church member, who was being monitored, called him. Now back in prison in Barentu, where he has been for 11 years in total.

Kidane Weldou

Senior pastor of the Full Gospel Church and member of the executive committee of Gideons International in Eritrea. When his vehicle was found abandoned in 2005, his wife and four children assumed he had been arrested. Believed to be in Wongel Mermera prison.

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Kiflu Gebremeskel. World Watch Monitor

Kiflu Gebremeskel.

Founder and senior pastor of Southwest Full Gospel Church, and member of the executive committee to the Full Gospel Church of Eritrea. Before he became a full-time pastor, Dr. Gebremeskel was also a mathematics lecturer and until 1999 was department and faculty head at the University of Asmara. Has a Ph.D. in mathematics from Chicago University. Taken from his home in Asmara Gejeret in May 2004. Wife and four children have not been able to visit him.

Million Gebreselasie

Anaesthetist and pastor of Massawa Rhema Church. Arrested on 3 June, 2004, five days after another pastor, Tesfasion Hagos (who has since been released and granted asylum in another country), visited his church and home. Arrested at a police checkpoint just before entering Asmara, as he was returning Pastor Hagos’ belongings to his home. Taken to the 2nd Police Station, where he was held for about two months, before being relocated to Wongel Mermera, where he remains. Unmarried.

Futsum Gebrenegus

Eritrea’s only psychiatrist. Also served as an Orthodox priest. Arrested in Nov. 2004 for allegedly being involved in the renewal movement within the Orthodox Church.

Gebremedhin Gebregiorsis

Expert theologian and Orthodox priest also arrested in Nov. 2004 for allegedly being involved in the renewal movement within the Orthodox Church.

Tekleab Menghisteab

Doctor and Orthodox priest also arrested in Nov. 2004 for alleged involvement in the renewal movement within the Orthodox Church.

Source: World Watch Monitor