What is the extent of government persecution of Evangelical Christians in Asmara, Eritrea?
Prior to 2002, Eritrean government persecution of Christians had been largely focused on Jehovah's Witnesses, who have refused on religious grounds to participate in national service and to vote. In May 2002, however, the Eritrean government issued a decree that all religious groups must register or cease their religious activities. The U.S. Department of State in its 2002 report on religious freedom in Eritrea reported:
"The Government instituted new restrictions on religious groups known collectively as 'Pentes.' Pentes include all groups that do not belong to the four principal religions--Orthodox Christian, Muslim, Catholic, and Evangelical Christian--such as Pentecostals, Born Again Christians, Seventh-Day Adventists, Baha'is, Buddhists, and other Protestants. In 2001 the Government began closing Pente facilities. Following a May 2002 government decree that all religious groups must register or cease all religious activities, all religious facilities not belonging to the four principal religions were closed by the end of the period covered by this report. The Government also continued to harass, detain, and discriminate against members of the small community of Jehovah's Witnesses" (USDOS 7 Oct 2002).
The report stated: "Authorities also informed Pente groups that a standing law would be used to stop political or other gatherings in private homes of more than five persons; however, there were no reports that the standing law was enforced during the period covered by this report" (USDOS 7 Oct 2002). Human Rights Watch in its 2003 World Report provided similar information on the May 2002 decree, but with a somewhat different description of the faiths included in and excluded from the decree, than that contained in the Department of State report on religious freedom. According to the human rights organization:
"In 2002, the government ordered all houses of worship other than those affiliated with the Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Lutheran Christian faiths and Moslem mosques to close. The ban affected Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, and Pentecostal adherents from practicing their religions. Jehovah's Witnesses were especially harshly treated because of their religious practices and beliefs. Four Jehovah's Witnesses were still imprisoned after more than five years without charge or trial for refusing to participate in the national service program, even though the maximum penalty for refusal to serve is three years. Jehovah's Witnesses were denied national identity cards, making them ineligible for government employment and government permits, such as passports and driver's licenses" (HRW 2003).
Reports from Christian groups active in Eritrea provide more detailed information on the persecution and harassment of Christian groups in the country. The website of Christianity Today provides information on the background to the Eritrean government's "closure of all Christian churches that are not Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Lutheran":
"The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) reported that the dominant Eritrean Orthodox Church could be pressuring the government to close independent evangelical and charismatic churches 'in the wake of what appears to be a budding revival movement occurring within the traditional Orthodox Church, as well as a recent outbreak of evangelical fervor within the Protestant community.' Many Eritrean soldiers became Christians because of personal evangelism and Christian radio broadcasts during the war for independence from Ethiopia from 1962 to 1991" (Christianity Today 5 Aug 2002).
Christian Solidarity Worldwide, an organization that works for the "religious liberty of persecuted Christians," provides information on persecution of evangelical and charismatic Christians in Eritrea:
--In 2001, young people were beaten, their property vandalised, and Bibles and other religious materials burned in an officially sanctioned attack within an Orthodox church in the capital Asmara.
--Church leaders initiated the attack on the pretext of dealing with so called 'heretics' in their midst.
--In 2002, government spokespersons began comparing Pentecostal/charismatic and evangelical churches with Islamists and branded them a danger to national security.
--As a consequence of this, all churches not belonging to the Orthodox, Catholic or Lutheran denominations in Eritrea were ordered to close in May 2002.
--More than 36 churches have been closed so far and some Christians even find it difficult to meet in their homes.
--For some years now, followers of newer denominations deemed 'heretical' by the authorities, have experienced harassment.
--Non-Orthodox church buildings have been confiscated and some church leaders have been detained in rural areas. Officials now seem to be increasing their clampdown on believers throughout the country" (Christian Solidarity Worldwide 12 Sept 2002).
Another organization, International Christian Concern, stated that the Christian groups excluded from the closures were "the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the evangelical Lutherans (Mekane Yesu)" (International Christian Concern Oct 2002).
This response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the RIC within time constraints. This response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide. 12 September 2002. "Church closures accompany new wave of intolerance in Eritrea." [Internet] URL: http://www.csw.org.uk/Latestnews.asp?Item=318 (Accessed 28 January 2003).
Christianity Today.com. 5 August 2002. "Eritrean government closes churches: all Christian houses of worship are ordered shut without official explanation." [Internet] URL: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2002/009/16.22.html (Accessed 28 January 2003).
Human Rights Watch (HRW). 2003. World Report 2003, "Eritrea." [Internet] URL: http://www.hrw.org/wr2k3/africa4.html (Accessed 28 January 2003).
International Christian Concern. October 2002. "Eritrea: Christian persecution in Eritrea." [Internet] URL: http://www.persecution.org/humanrights/eritrea.html (Accessed 28 January 2003).
United States Department of State (USDOS). 7 October 2002. International Religious Freedom Report 2002, "Eritrea." [Internet] URL: http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2002/13820.htm (Accessed 28 January 2003).