BosNewsLife Africa Service
LONDON/ASMARA (BosNewsLife)-- Activists from Britain and Ireland were taking part in a protest outside the Eritrean embassy in London on Thursday, May 17, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of mass detentions of Eritrean Christians, organizers said.
The "protest vigil" was followed by an evening of prayer for thousands of Eritreans who are currently detained "indefinitely without charge or trial and in inhumane conditions" in "a maze of detention centers situated throughout the country," explained advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
Eritrea has one of the world’s most repressive regimes comparable to North Korea, activists said.
The African nation is a single party state dominated by an autocratic president with the military controlling every aspect of society, including the economy, according to local Eritrean Christians and Western observers.
"The regime demands total allegiance, thus Christians are perceived as a threat to national unity due to their ultimate allegiance to a higher being," CSW added in a statement.
On May 15, 2002, all churches except those belonging to the Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran denominations were effectively banned and the era of mass arrests of Christians began. Members of independent evangelical and charismatic churches are particularly singled out, according to local Christians
and international rights groups.
However even permitted churches have complained of persecution.
Orthodox patriarch Abune Antonios has been under house arrest since 2006 for resisting government interference in church affairs, and priests seen as sympathizing with him are reportedly detained and harassed.
Some 2,000 to 3,000 Christians are currently detained in Eritrea without charge or trial, according to rights activists and church groups. Several Christians are known to have died in notorious prison camps, BosNewsLife reported earlier.
Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki has denied wrongdoing. He said policies are aimed at several religious groups who are "duped by foreigners", seeking to "distract from the unity of the Eritrean people and distort the true meaning of religion."
Meanwhile, thousands of Eritreans flee their country every year, risking a government shoot-to-kill border policy, CSW said. "Many are fleeing military conscription, which can last indefinitely and is mandatory for all citizens aged between 18 and 48 years," the group noted.
There are over 100,000 Eritrean refugees in Sudan, with around 1,600 crossing the border every month, according to reported United Nations estimates.
"Some fall into the hands of abusive traffickers, and are held hostage in torture camps in the Sinai Desert pending payment of exorbitant ransoms, or the forcible removal of organs," CSW said.
"Others receive inadequate assistance from the countries they arrive in, and continue to suffer," the group explained.
The Eritrean security services have been known to pursue or harass refugees in foreign countries through their agents abroad, while countries such as Sudan and Egypt have in the past forcibly returned Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers despite reports of severe mistreatment of returnees.
CSW Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said that his organization had joined the British Orthodox Church,and the Church in Chains- Ireland, the Evangelical Alliance-Wales, Human Rights Concern-Eritrea, Release Eritrea and Release International advocacy groups "to highlight the plight of Eritrean prisoners, who continue to be deprived of their fundamental rights, and whose plight does not receive the urgent attention it deserves."
He said, "We are committed to working, praying and standing in solidarity with all Eritreans who long for justice and are striving to see an end to human rights abuses in their country, and will continue to do so until every Eritrean is able to enjoy the rights and freedoms enshrined in the nation’s constitution."