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3,000 Christians in prison in Eritrea

Catholic World News - September 21, 2011

The government of Eritrea--one of the most repressive in the world--has placed 3,000 Christians in prison, “where they face mistreatment and deprivation of food and medical treatment, pending renunciation of their faith,” according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide. The organization is part of a coalition that is calling upon the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate human rights violations in the African nation.

Colonized by Italy, Eritrea was awarded to Ethiopia in 1952 and eventually annexed, leading to a decades-long civil war. Eritrea regained its independence in 1993 under the leadership of Isaias Afwerki, a Marxist who received his military training in Mao Zedong’s China. Afwerki remains the totalitarian nation’s leader today. Reporters Without Borders deems Eritrea’s treatment of press freedom the worst in the world.

Originally a Christian area that ceased communion with the Holy See following the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the nation of 5.8 million is now half Muslim, 30% Eritrean Orthodox, and 3% Eastern Catholic. The government recognizes the existence only of Islam, the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, and the Lutheran church; according to the State Department, it systematically arrests and imprisons other believers, in some cases reportedly making their conversion to Eritrean Orthodoxy, obtained under torture, as a condition for release.

Official recognition does not provide immunity from persecution. In 2005, the government appointed a layman to administer the Eritrean Orthodox Church, and the following year, the Church’s patriarch was deposed. In 1998, the government took over Catholic schools and health clinics; in 2008, it took over all Church property in the nation’s capital.

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