See also:
» 02.03.2011 - Calm Eritrea avoids talks of rebellion
» 09.04.2010 - Journalists still locked away in Eritrea
» 11.12.2009 - 30 Christian women arrested in Eritrea
» 21.10.2009 - Eritrea is the bottom last in Press Freedom Index 2009
» 27.05.2009 - Eritrea rejects release of Swedish journalist
» 16.04.2009 - Eritrea’s human rights violations deepen the rights crisis, HRW
» 21.01.2009 - Three Eritrean Christians die in military camps
» 02.05.2008 - Equatorial Guinean leader tops Africa's media predators

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Human rights | Society

Campaign to release Eritrea's religious prisoners

afrol News, 25 May - Christian and Eritrean pro-democracy activists in the US have launched a campaign against religious persecution in Eritrea. The groups today hold a vigil at the Eritrean Embassy in Washington, urging the Asmara government to "release all Christian prisoners and respect the human rights of its citizens by reinstating freedom of religious worship."

The vigil at the Eritrean Embassy is organised by the group Release-Eritrea USA, a global partnership of Eritreans and friends of Eritrea standing against religious persecution in their motherland.

The dissident Eritreans living in the US noted that the Asmara government had "failed to respond" to the numerous calls from across the world over the last three years to free its political and religious prisoners. Thus, the group had joined Christian Solidarity in marking the third anniversary of the closure of all independent churches and minority faiths across Eritrea with a rally in front of the Embassy.

Concern is mounting for 16 church leaders and pastors who remain detained in three prisons in Eritrea. It also is estimated that up to 900 other Eritrean Christian prisoners - being held without trials or any legal due course - are detained in shipment containers and prison camps, which are not accessible to the Red Cross or any human rights organisations.

Eritreans inside and outside the country are particularly distressed about the documented ill-treatment of vulnerable prisoners, including the denial to medication. There was also concern over the safety of several vulnerable detainees, including sick and elderly dissidents that have been in isolation for more than one year.

Aklil Habtezion of the group in a statement today said that "the continued denial of freedom of religious worship and the illegal detention of numerous citizens is an utter breach of national and international human rights provisions and a total disregard for everything that 'Free Eritrea' stands for. I totally denounce it as every Eritrean should," Mr Habtezion added.

The US-Eritrean group holds that the non-elected government of President Issayas Afewerki is breeching several articles of the Eritrean constitution when keeping these dissidents detained. The constitution allows for freedom of conscience, religion, movement, assembly, organization and expression of opinion.

Moreover, the Eritrean constitution stipulates the right to a fair and public trial, the presumption of innocence and the right of appeal. It also states that anyone arrested should be brought before a court of law within 48 hours of their arrest. The Eritrean Penal Code states that once arrested a person should be charged within 28 days or released, the US-based activist reminded the government.

On 22 May 2002, the ruling PFDJ party of Eritrea ordered the closure of all churches not belonging to the Orthodox Roman Catholic or Evangelical Lutheran denominations. So far, at least 36 churches have closed. Many followers of these churches and their leaders have been imprisoned, harassed and tortured.

On several occasions since then the Eritrean government issued blanket denials of the existence of persecution in the country stating that, "no groups or persons are persecuted in Eritrea for their beliefs or religion" and that people were "free to worship according to their wishes."

Eritrea is one of the three new countries, which the US State Department recently designated as "countries of particular concern for several violations of religious freedom" in a well-documented report. The listing caused heavy-worded protests from the Asmara government.

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