By BosNewsLife Africa Service
ASMARA, ERITREA (BosNewsLife)-- More than 120 Christians have been detained in Eritrea in a government-backed crackdown on unregistered denominations across the troubled African nation, Christian activists told BosNewsLife Thursday, June 15.
At least 122 Christians were detained last month, confirmed advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which closely follows the situation.
“These arrests signify a renewed intensity in the [government] crackdown that has been ongoing since 2002, and are a clear indication that the severe repression of freedom of religion or belief continues unabated in Eritrea," said CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas.
Om 2002 Eritrea's government effectively outlawed religious practices not affiliated with the Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran and Orthodox Christian denominations or Sunni Islam. However even the official churches have reported persecution, BosNewsLife established.
Among those detained in the latest reported crackdown are 54 Christians, including entire families, elderly men and a disabled woman, who were taken from their homes in Adi Quala town in the south of the country, Christians said. They were reportedly brought to the Adi Aglis detention camp, leaving 23 children without their parents.
Elsewhere, 15 Christians were detained in Gindae town in the Northern Red Sea Region, in an ongoing operation that has forced others to flee to safer areas, according to CSW investigators.
In the Godaif district of the capital Asmara, 17 Christians were rounded up on 28 May 2017, activists said. Forty-five others, mostly women, had been apparently rounded up a week earlier in another part of the city as they gathered at a party arranged by a recently married couple.
Christians in the city have reportedly begun a period of prayer and fasting "for peace and safety".
Further arrests are anticipated as local district committees, composed of members of the security services, the ruling party, the local administration and Orthodox Church officials working with the government, continue house to house inquiries, CSW said.
In published remarks, Sheila B. Keetharuth, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, noted that “the practice of arbitrary arrest and detention of individuals based on their religious belief continues.” The official also spoke to the UN's Human Rights Council (HRC) about earlier arrests in Ghindae and Adi Quala, as well as the ongoing detention of Patriarch Antonios of the Eritrean Orthodox Church.
Keetharuth urged in a new report the immediate and unconditional release of “all those unlawfully and arbitrarily detained" including journalists and members of religious groups.
Thomas told BosNewsLife in a statement that "in view of the continuing violations and lack of cooperation, we call on the HRC to support the renewal of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, and also to urge the international community to ensure that perpetrators of crimes against humanity are held accountable, including through universal jurisdiction, whenever this is appropriate.”
Thousands of Christians have been detained and imprisoned in recent years, according to several rights groups and Christians in the country.
Many have been locked in shipping containers and at least several Christians died as a result, activists say.
Eritrea's government has consistently denied human rights abuses.