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Eritrea: Severe Persecution is Expanding

May 24, 2006

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin - No. 379 - Wed 24 May 2006

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ERITREA: SEVERE PERSECUTION IS EXPANDING
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Eritrea is around 48 per cent Muslim and 48 per cent Christian,
with 90 per cent of the Christians belonging to the Eritrean
Orthodox Church. However there has been significant growth in
evangelical Christianity fed mainly by the 1970s Biblical renewal
movement, Medhane Alem, in the Orthodox Church.

The brutal persecution of Eritrea\'s Protestant Church began in May
2002 when the government closed all churches other than the
Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Mekane Yesus (Evangelical
Lutheran) denominations. The move was driven by the government\'s
desire to prevent the infiltration and growth of foreign and
radical Islamist groups, and pressure from the Eritrean Orthodox
Church for a crackdown on evangelical Protestant (\'foreign\' and
\'radical\') Christianity. Eritrea\'s constitution guarantees full
religious freedom which the government denies is being violated,
saying the crackdown is for national stability and security.
Compass Direct reports: \'Nearly 1800 Christians, including 28
pastors and priests from both Protestant and Orthodox churches, are
now under arrest in police stations, military camps and jails all
across Eritrea because of their religious beliefs.\' Several
evangelical leaders including Dr Kifle Gebremeski, Chairman of the
Eritrean Evangelical Alliance, remain \'disappeared\'.

In January 2005 the government for the first time arrested 25
Catholics. In March 2005, after three clerics from Medhane Alem
were arrested, the spiritual leader of the Orthodox Church of
Eritrea, Patriarch Abuna Antonois, protested the government\'s
interference. The government then orchestrated a coup d\'etat
against the church and in August 2005 passed a resolution to depose
the non-compliant Patriarch Antonois and replace him with Mr
Yoftahe Dimetros, a compliant layman. When Patriarch Antonois was
officially dismissed in January this year he immediately rejected
the dismissal and excommunicated Mr Yoftahe Dimetros and the others
who signed the dismissal order. After Dimetros confiscated
Patriarch Antonois\' car, the unstoppable patriarch simply walked to
St Mary\'s Orthodox Church.

In March 2006 the government sent a letter to all Eritrean Orthodox
churches officially excommunicating 65 key leaders who refused to
denounce Medhane Alem as heretical. Then on 4 April three of the
excommunicants were arrested and imprisoned for agitating against
the excommunication. Even though he is under virtual house arrest
Patriarch Antonois courageously continues to challenge the
government\'s interference. Since June 2004 (in RLP 275) solidarity
amongst Eritrea\'s churches has been our constant prayer request.
Maybe the Lord is building that solidarity now.

Meanwhile the persecution of the Protestant Church continues.
Compass Direct reports the Defence Ministry and its military
personnel are waging an intensive campaign to identify and punish
students who are members of banned evangelical churches. Earlier
this month 50 students were identified as \'evangelical believers\'
and punished harshly at Mai Nefhee Educational Institution, a
military service centre in Asmara. Compass Direct also confirmed
three women members of the banned Full Gospel Church were arrested
on 8 May accused of \'actively witnessing about Christ\' to the
inhabitants of their town, Nefasit, 10 miles east of Asmara. All
three are mothers of young children. Ghenet Gebremariam\'s unwell
six-month-old baby son died two days after his mother\'s arrest.
Only then did the police agree to release Ghenet on bail. The
government is extracting a very high price from Eritrea\'s believers
for a faith the Saviour gives freely.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD:

* to humble Eritrea\'s President Issayas Afewerki so he will repent
and fear God (Daniel 4), or may God at least turn his heart
(Proverbs 21:1) so he will stop persecution of the Church.

* to bless Eritrea\'s persecuted and imprisoned believers with
enduring faith, a powerful sense of his loving and sustaining
presence, and ultimately with justice.

* who is three but one, to create by his Spirit deep bonds of
brotherly love, identification and solidarity between all
Eritrea\'s Christians; may the politically powerful Orthodox
Church and the spiritually rich evangelicals become a blessing to
each other, to their nation and to the world.

\' . . . I pray . . . that all of them may be one, Father, just as
you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so the world
may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that
you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you
in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know
that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.\'
Jesus, John 17:20-23

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SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE:
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SEVERE PERSECUTION EXPANDS IN ERITREA

Eritrea\'s Protestant Church has been severely persecuted since mid-
2002 when the government closed all but the \'official\' Orthodox,
Catholic and Lutheran churches. During 2005 the persecution
extended to include some Catholic and Orthodox members. In January
2006 the government took control of the Eritrean Orthodox Church,
sacking the non-compliant Patriarch Antonois and replacing him with
a compliant layman. Compass Direct wrote, \'Nearly 1800 Christians,
including 28 pastors and priests from both Protestant and Orthodox
churches, are now under arrest in police stations, military camps
and jails all across Eritrea because of their religious beliefs.\'
Prison conditions are appalling and torture is routine. Several
evangelical leaders including Dr Kifle Gebremeski, Chairman of the
Eritrean Evangelical Alliance, remain \'disappeared\'. The suffering
is immense. Please pray for the Church in Eritrea.

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The WEA Religious Liberty Commission sponsors this
RL Prayer List to help individuals and groups pray
specifically and regularly for religious liberty
issues, and in particular to uphold the Church
where it is suffering persecution.

RL Prayer is moderated by Ron Clough, a commissioner
of the WEA RLC and convenor of the Australian EA RLC.
Elizabeth Kendal researched and authored this message.