Saturday, December 17, 2005

Eritrea: Religious persecution severe: Eritrea mainstream repress religious belief & minorities' freedom of conscience

Eritrea Gov't Rejects Amnesty's Report on Religious Persecution
Thursday, Dec. 8, 2005 Posted: 3:35:17PM EST

Eritrea’s government sternly denied its engagement in religious persecution, rejecting the accusations appearing in the latest report from Amnesty International (AI).

On Wednesday, the leading human rights watchdog published a report entitled "Eritrea: Religious Persecution," which documented 44 incidents of religious persecution sponsored by the Eritrean authorities since 2003. While at least 26 pastors and priests, some 1,750 evangelical church members, have been detained by the government so far, the report warned that the persecution has intensified in 2005.

Eritrean Information Minister Ali Abdu promptly dismissed the report, criticizing it "unsubstantiated fabrications," according to Reuters.
That's how Christian Post's Eunice Or begins her fascinating and alarming article on religious persecution in Eritrea, a post-Marxist state that favours the mainstream of two religions only - the country's mainstream Islam and the country's ancient Christian Orthodox Church (which is of the Coptic Rites). We have the same thing in Ontario state-supported schools, two religions are established - the "neutralist" secularist-humanist religion, and the system for Roman Catholics and their brethren of affiliated rites. For instance, the Ukrainian Catholic Church follows the Byzantine Rite, and gets its own state-supported school/s thru the Roman Catholic school board. France has at least four such establishments as regards government-supported school sytems or networks. So, the situation of two privileged laities in Eritrea is remarkable only because one of the privileged two is Sunni Muslim, while the other Coptic Orthodox Christian (and torture, of course).

Torture?, for deviance of religious belief, not disruptive of the civil order in any way? Yes, torture enters the Eritrean picture quite seriously. Below is the opening section of the press release by Amnesty International regarding Eritrean religious persecution today.

Severe religious persecution today in Eritrea

1. Introduction: basic human rights denied

Amnesty International has received disturbing reports of increasing violations in Eritrea of the right to freedom of religion, belief and conscience. While Jehovah's Witnesses have been subjected to severe persecution for the past decade on account of their religious beliefs, this report focuses on widespread detentions and other human rights violations of members of evangelical Christian churches in the past three years, intensifying in 2005. Since 2002, their churches have been shut down by the government and many members have been tortured in an attempt to force them to stop worshipping and to thereby abandon their faith. Members of new groups within the officially-permitted Orthodox Church and Islam have also been detained on account of their beliefs.

At least 26 pastors and priests, and over 1,750 church members, including children and 175 women, and some dozens of Muslims, are detained because of their religious beliefs. Amnesty International considers them to be prisoners of conscience.

Amnesty International is appealing to President Issayas Afewerki and the Eritrean government to end the government's policy of repression of religious belief and freedom of conscience, opinion and expression in general. Amnesty International calls on the international community to strengthen efforts to obtain and secure protection of religious freedom and basic human rights in Eritrea.

Human rights in Eritrea are systematically violated by President Issayas Afewerki's government, which has been in power since the country's independence from Ethiopia in 1991 after a 30-year liberation war.(1) The detentions of individuals solely because of their religious beliefs is part of the general denial of the rights to freedom of expression and association in Eritrea, as well as other grave violations of basic human rights. These violations of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion are contrary to international law, as well as the Constitution of Eritrea (1997).

Torture has routinely been used as a punishment for critics of the government and members of minority faiths, as well as for offences committed by military conscripts. Arbitrary incommunicado detention "without charge or trial" is widespread and long-lasting - several prisoners of conscience have been held thus for over a decade - with many detainees are held in secret and their whereabouts not known.

Violations of the right to freedom of religion in Eritrea are indirectly linked to a far-reaching pattern of violations of the right to expression of non-violent political opinions and the right to association. Religious prisoners of conscience who have no connection with political opposition groups are subjected to the same torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment, and the same arbitrary and incommunicado detention, as prisoners of conscience detained on account of their political opinions.

Any expression or suspicion of criticism of the government - impossible to express openly and publicly - is met with threats, arbitrary arrest and sometimes "disappearances", and indefinite, incommunicado detention, without any judicial oversight, and with a high risk of torture. The only permitted political party is President Issayas Afewerki's People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), formerly the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF), which won the independence war and formed the new government.

The rule of law in Eritrea is severely undermined by the lack of an effective or independent judiciary. Lawyers do not dare to challenge the government in the courts. A Special Court sentences people for corruption without the right to defence or appeal. A secret security committee sentences some political and religious prisoners to prison terms without defence representation or appeal. Organizations who might potentially monitor human rights and press for remedies for human rights violations do not and cannot function inside Eritrea on account of the comprehensive denial of the right to freedom of expression of opinion. Human rights violations by members of the security forces are committed with total impunity.(2)

Non-government organisations (NGOs) are heavily restricted. International human rights organisations such as Amnesty International are denied entry. International humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are restricted in their activities and travel, and the official US development agency, US-Agency for International Development, a major bilateral donor, was ordered to leave Eritrea in November 2005 without explanation. Under a new Proclamation in 2005(3), international NGOs, including faith-based agencies - of which only 14 are currently registered(4) - are limited to relief and rehabilitation activities and not permitted to work independently of the government with local communities.

Two thirds of the population are dependent on international emergency food aid since the 1998-2000 armed conflict with Ethiopia. This includes returnee refugees from Sudan and 70,000 internally displaced persons (IDP)(5)camp. Many donor governments have withdrawn development assistance on account of the government's failures in democratization and human rights.

Fears of new armed conflict with Ethiopia

There are rising fears in the international community (as of late November 2005) that armed conflict may break out again between Eritrea and Ethiopia. The UN Security Council has called on Ethiopia to implement its acceptance in principle of the International Boundary Commission's judgment regarding the border areas, particularly its allocation to Eritrea of Badme town, the flashpoint of war in 1998. Ethiopia refuses to allow border demarcation to proceed, instead calling for negotiation over certain issues. Eritrea demands UN implementation of the border judgment and UN action against Ethiopia to enforce it.

In October 2005, following earlier restrictions it had imposed on the 2,800 - personnel multi-national UN Military Mission for Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE), which administers a "Temporary Security Zone" buffer-zone along the 1,000 km border with Ethiopia, Eritrea banned UN helicopter flights to the UN monitoring posts and imposed other restrictions which severely reduced the mission's ability to fulfil its mandate. Both sides have re-armed since 2000 and have recently deployed troops near the border.

On 23 November, UN Security Council resolution 1640 demanded that Eritrea should reserve the ban on helicopter flights and other restrictions imposed on the movement of the UNMEE force. It called on both parties to return to previous levels of military deployment within 30 days, to prevent aggravation of the situation. It demanded that Ethiopia allow border demarcation to start immediately within precondition.

Amnesty International, a non-political and impartial human rights organization working on human rights in all countries of the world, takes no position on the political issues of the border dispute. The organization is concerned that renewed armed conflict could lead to a repeat of grave violations of the Geneva Conventions (war crimes) such as were committed by both sides against prisoners of war and civilians, as well as violations of international human rights law in the 1998-2000 conflict. Furthermore, major humanitarian assistance by the international community might be needed to respond to emergency situations arising from the conflict in terms of destruction of livelihoods, internal displacement of people and out-flow of refugees to neighbouring and other countries.

Amnesty International believes that perceived threats to the security of the country and its borders should not be used by the Government of Eritrea as a pretext for committing human rights violations or as a justification for delaying action to protect human rights in the country.

refWrite hopes to publish more of the document in future. - Politicarp

Next: Religious Persecution - 2. Religions in Eritrea background to arrests

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