Eritrea: Pastor and churchgoers held in detention at risk of torture

Amnesty International calls for their immediate and unconditional release

Amnesty International today (6 September) urged its members to take action to secure the protection of a Protestant pastor and 10 churchgoers in Eritrea who are being held incommunicado.

35-year-old Leul Gebreab is a pastor at the evangelical Apostolic Church and was arrested in the Eritrean capital, Asmara on 12 August. To date, there has been no news of his whereabouts.

In a separate incident on 19 August, 10 men and Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights – who are members of the Full Gospel Church, a long-established evangelical church in Asmara – were arrested while worshipping privately in a home in the city, following the closure of their church by the authorities.

They are believed to be detained incommunicado without charge or trial in the Karchele security prison, together with dozens of other pastors and members of banned evangelical churches.

Amnesty considers Pastor Gebreab, and the 10 church members who were arrested in Asmara on 12 August, to be prisoners of conscience as they have been detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their religious beliefs.

Religious persecution in Eritrea has been widespread and harsh for several years. In 2002, the country’s government ordered all unregistered religions to close their places of worship until they were registered. Only Islam and the Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran Christian churches have been officially recognised since May 2002.

Members of evangelical churches have been subjected to arrest, torture and coercion by the security forces to try and force them to deny their faith. Reports indicate that there are more than 2,000 Christians currently being detained incommunicado, without charge or access to legal redress. Many of them are held in remote army camps.

This year another Pastor – Michael Abraha, a diabetic who had been arrested several times previously – and 20 other members of the Kale Hiwot church were arrested in Decemhare town in May and June and held in Adi Abito army prison near Asmara.

However most of the 2000 have been held for over two years. Prison conditions are harsh, with little or no medical treatment. Three detainees are reported to have died in custody during 2007.

Religious persecution, still denied by the government, has also affected the Eritrean Orthodox Church, whose Patriarch has been deposed and is detained incommunicado on account of his criticisms of government interference in church matters.

The Roman Catholic Church in Eritrea is currently appealing against an order to hand over all its social welfare organisations - schools, medical clinics, orphanages and Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights's training centres - to the Ministry of Social Welfare and Labour. It has also made repeated requests for exemption for priests from military service, which is compulsory and indefinite.

To take action, please contact Amnesty’s Individuals At Risk team on iar@amnesty.org.uk or +44 (0) 20 7033 1572.

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