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Eritrea: Government must end religious persecution says new Amnesty report

The report, entitled Eritrea: Religious Persecution, documents an increasing number of violations of the right to freedom of religion, belief and conscience in the country.

Some who do not follow the officially recognised religions have been sentenced to prison without any legal representation or right of appeal.

The report details 44 separate incidents of religious persecution.

A torture technique known as “the helicopter” is routinely used as punishment for people who do not belong to an officially recognised faith. It involves someone’s hands and feet being tied together behind their back.

Prisoners can be left in this position for hours. Many are in extremely poor health and denied adequate medical treatment.

The Amnesty report documents several cases. One of those featured is Helen Berhane, a well-known gospel singer from the Rema Church. Arrested for refusing to renounce her faith, Helen has been detained incommunicado in Mai Serwa military camp since May 13 2004. H

Helen is currently being held in a metal shipping container.

Amnesty International’s findings show that the government has increased the violent repression of religious minorities in 2005.

The crackdown, which started without any explanation in 2003, is part of a general disregard for human rights by President Issayas Afewerki’s government, which has been in power since the country’s independence from Ethiopia in 1991.

Kolawole Olaniyan, Director of Amnesty International's Africa programme said:

“All those detained for their religious beliefs must be released immediately. The situation is critical and we are extremely concerned for the safety and wellbeing of hundreds of people in Eritrea.”

He continued, “The requirement for registration of religions in Eritrea should be revised to ensure it does not violate the right to practise a religion. The government must end its violent repression and ensure that international law is upheld.”


The detention of individuals solely because of their religious beliefs is part of the general denial of the right to freedom of expression and association in Eritrea, as well as other grave violations of basic human rights.

In 2002, the government suddenly ordered all unregistered religions to close their places of worship and stop practising their faith until they were registered.

Only four main religions were immediately recognised as official faiths; these were the Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran churches and Islam. Since then no minority religious group has succeeded in registering themselves officially.

In the past decade Jehovah's Witnesses have been severely persecuted with a total of 22 currently detained.

Read the full report

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