roughly 1,800 Christians in Eritrea who are held in prisons, military camps and even shipping containers, and will release an album of an incarcerated Eritrean Gospel singer, BosNewsLife monitored Saturday, June 3.
UK-based advocacy groups Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) and Release Eritrea said they will launch the album of Helen Berhane next week as part of the campaign, which already saw protests in front of the Eritrean Embassy in London this week, and a day of prayer May 21.
31-year-old Helen Berhane is a member of Eritrea’s Rhema Church, and was detained in May 2004. She is reported to have been held for some time in a shipping container at the Mai-Serwa military camp after she refused to abandon her faith in Christ and not to participate in Protestant activities.
Investigators say temperatures inside a Eritrea shipping container can increase to 60 decrees Celsius (140 Fahrenheit) and at night to the freezing point, They have also expressed concern over reports of the use of torture against Berhane and nearly 1,800 other Christians in Eritrea who are believed to have been detained for their their religious affiliations.
Members of permitted churches are not immune to persecution in Eritrea, CSW said. "The month of campaigning follows the illegal removal of Abune Antonios, Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, from office in January 2006. He is currently under a stringent regime of house arrest," the group added.
In the Netherlands, another Christian rights group, Open Doors, said it also launched a massive protest action against the ill treatment of Christians in the African nation. "We had enough, it’s time for action," Open Doors Spokesman Jenö Sebök said in a statement to BosNewsLife.
Although pressure has increased on the official Catholic, Orthodox and Lutheran churches since 2005, Sebök noted that especially evangelical Christians seem to suffer as they often express their faith publicly.
Between 2002 and 2004 even wedding parties were targeted, where the bride, groom and pastor along wit hall quests were incarcerated. Sebök linked the tensions to President Isaias Afewerki’s concern over religious extremism at a time of preparations for a possible new war with the country’s archrival neighboring Ethiopia.
"Bible-believing-Christians are apparently also seen as extremists by him, Sebök said, adding that they are often "tortured or chained in horrible positions." He said his group has asked Dutch Christians to participate in the "massive protest action" by signing a petition for the release of believers on its Web site.
The names will be printed on "thousands" of "protest postcards" which he said will be handed over to the Eritrean ambassador in the Netherlands. CSW National Director Stuart Windsor told BosNewsLife that his group was "delighted that many Christians have joined our campaigns for Eritrea. The faith of those persecuted in Eritrea is an inspiration to us all. The overall human rights situation in Eritrea has deteriorated markedly and the international community must act before the situation becomes any worse."
Eritrea's government has denied human rights abuses saying that no groups or persons are persecuted in the country for their beliefs or religion and that people are free to worship according to their wish.
President Isaias Afworki has been quoted as saying that several religious groups have been "duped by foreigners" who sought to "distract from the unity of the Eritrean people and distort the true meaning of religion." (With additional reporting in the Netherlands by Eric Leijenaar, BosNewsLife Special Correspondent and Managing Editor of leading Dutch evangelical newspaper Uitdaging (Challenge)).