Representatives of seven organizations from the UK and Ireland will be taking part in a protest vigil outside the Eritrean embassy in London on Thursday 17 May, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the mass detentions of Eritrean Christians, which began after the government’s closure of every church except those belonging to three denominations.
The vigil will be followed by an evening of prayer for thousands of Eritreans of all creeds and none who are currently detained indefinitely without charge or trial and in inhumane conditions in a maze of detention centres situated throughout the country.
Eritrea is one of the world’s most repressive regimes, often likened to North Korea. It is a single party state dominated by a dictatorial president, and the military pervades every aspect of society, including the economy. The regime demands total allegiance, thus Christians are perceived as a threat to national unity due to their ultimate allegiance to a higher being.
On 15 May 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; however, even permitted churches suffer 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 detained and harassed. An estimated 2,000 to 3,000 Christians are currently detained in Eritrea without charge or trial.
Thousands of Eritreans flee their country every year, risking a government shoot-to-kill border policy. Many are fleeing military conscription, which can last indefinitely and is mandatory for all citizens aged between 18 and 48 years. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimated in 2011 that there are over 100,000 Eritrean refugees in Sudan, with around 1,600 crossing the border every month. 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. Others receive inadequate assistance from the countries they arrive in, and continue to suffer. 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 evidence of the severe mistreatment of returnees. (CSW)