Catholic World News

3,000 Christians imprisoned in Eritrea

December 03, 2009

Eritrea’s human rights record came under the scrutiny of the United Nation Human Rights Council on December 1. Some 20,000 political prisoners there-- including 3,000 Christians-- are imprisoned by a regime known for torturing its opponents.

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.

A longtime Christian area-- local bishops were part of an Oriental Orthodox Church that region ceased communion with the Holy See following the Council of Chalcedon in 451-- the nation of 5.5 million is now half Muslim, 30% Eritrean Orthodox, and less than 4% 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; last year, it took over all Catholic Church property in the nation’s capital.

 


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