Eritrea: Torture fears for 28 Jehovah's Witnesses arrested, including 90-year-old man

The whereabouts of the 28 are not known, but they are believed to be held in one of Eritrea's many secret detention centres. The Eritrean authorities have not publicly acknowledged the arrests or given any reason for them.

Amnesty International fears the 28 could be tortured or ill-treated to force them to abandon their faith, and that those of conscription age (18-40 years) could be forced into military service and tortured if, in accordance with the principles of their faith, they refuse.

Amnesty International UK Media Director Lesley Warner said:

'Nobody should be persecuted for peacefully practising their religion.

'Amnesty members world-wide are urgently appealing for the immediate release of these prisoners of conscience.'

Amnesty International also raised the alarm last year September when 57 boy and girl members of minority Christian churches were arrested for possession of bibles, and held in metal shipping containers at Sawa military camp in western Eritrea. The Children's rights were held in unventilated, overcrowded and extremely hot conditions, with inadequate food and medical care. Amnesty International members called for their immediate and unconditional release.

Background Information

The Eritrean Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of religion. However, Jehovah's Witnesses in Eritrea (who number about 1,600) have frequently been arrested on account of their faith's principle of refusing military service. In 1994 the government stripped all members of the religion of basic civil and political rights.

In March 2002, along with at least 12 minority Christian sects, they were prohibited from practising their religion and were ordered to register with the Department of Religious Affairs. None of these faiths has been granted a permit so far and some have refused on principle to comply with the far- reaching order to disclose details of their membership, foreign funding and activities.

Over 330 members of these faiths who were arrested in 2003 are detained incommunicado in secret prisons without charge or trial, including scores of conscripts. Many have been tortured or ill-treated in attempts to force them to abandon their faith. Former detainees at a secret 8000-inmate prison on the main Dahlak island in the Red Sea have recently given testimony that inmates found praying have been tortured, and that bibles and religious audio-cassettes have been burned.

Three Jehovah's Witnesses have been detained incommunicado in Sawa military training centre in western Eritrea since 1994, without charge or trial, for refusing to bear arms. National service is compulsory for all men and Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights aged 18 to 40, with no observance of the internationally-recognised right to conscientious objection. It is supposed to consist of six months' military service, and 12 months non-military duties. In practice, since the Ethiopian war (1998-2000), national service has generally turned into indefinite military service.

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