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  1. At least 53 Jehovah’s Witnesses are currently languishing in prison in Eritrea—an African country known for repressing Christians—and some have died in prison due to poor treatment, according to a report on religious freedom released this week by the State Department. Eritrea officially recognizes four religions: the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Eritrean Catholic Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church and Islam. Nevertheless, even members of the sanctioned Christian groups face frequent repression, and fringe groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses face constant persecution and discrimination. The authoritarian government of Isaias Afwerki, which came to power in 1993 when Eritrea first gained independence, stripped the Jehovah’s Witnesses of their citizenship in 1994 because they object to participating in military service. Since then, many members of the group have been imprisoned or abused for practicing their religion or refusing to join the military. “In February several NGOs [non-government organizations] reported Tsehaye Tesfamariam, a Jehovah’s Witness arrested in 2009 and imprisoned at the Me’eter Prison Camp until 2015, died in November 2016 from an illness contracted in prison that authorities reportedly refused to treat,” the State Department report said. “Most places of worship unaffiliated with the four registered religious groups remained closed, but many of those buildings were protected and undamaged," the report noted. "Jehovah’s Witnesses, who were stripped of citizenship in 1994 due to their refusal to vote in the independence referendum, were largely unable to obtain official identification documents." Members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization said that at least three of the group’s members have been held without charge since 1994. Two elderly witnesses also died in prison this year. “Eritrea arrests and imprisons Jehovah’s Witnesses and others without trial or formal charges. Witness men and women, including children and the elderly, are imprisoned for religious activity or for undisclosed reasons. Young men are imprisoned for conscientiously objecting to military service,” the Jehovah’s Witnesses said in a statement. The situation resembles that of Russia, which labeled the religious group an extremist cult last year and began jailing members and shutting religious institutions. At least 26 Jehovah’s Witnesses have been charged in Russia under the country’s strict laws on extremism.
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  2. Jehovah’s Witnesses have been especially harshly treated since independence. There is no truth to the statement in the Eritrean report to the Commission (on p19) that Eritrean Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to recognize the government and “opposed the referendum process” – rather they declined to participate in the 1993 referendum on independence solely because of their beliefs. Members of the faith also refused to serve as soldiers in national service because of conscientious objections. Eritrea provides no substitute service for conscientious objectors. Instead, the government has imprisoned Jehovah’s Witnesses, young and old, and denied them ration cards and work permits. Fifty-four are currently in detention, including three arrested and sent to the Sawa military training camp 24 years ago. Prison conditions for Jehovah’s Witnesses improved somewhat in 2017. All Witness prisoners, including the Sawa-three, were transferred to the Mai Serwa prison last year. There, they have been allowed visitors for the first time during incarceration and conditions are said to be less oppressive. “Recognized” religions are hardly immune from government repression. The government deposed Eritrean Orthodox Patriarch Antonios in 2007, placed him under house arrest, and imposed a successor on the church. In July 2017, the octogenarian former patriarch was brought to a church service for the first time in 11 years but not allowed to speak. He has not been seen since. The government also appointed the Mufti of the Muslim community. Religious leaders and laymen who protested the patriarchal and mufti appointments remain imprisoned. Read more:
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  3. The two main religions in this Northeastern Coastal African nation of Eritrea are Sunni Islam and Orthodox Christianity, and publications including the World Atlas state that they will both be brutal in excluding other sects. In 2002 the government banned all unregistered religious institutions, and groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Pentecostals were subsequently hunted by the government for crimes as small as reading Christian bibles in their own time. As the BBC reported in 2004, offending Christians often had their heads shaved and were imprisoned in metal freight boxes, as many as thirty to a box. Even worse, and apparently practically routine, was a punishment where heretics’ wrists and legs would be tied together behind their backs before milk was poured on them to attract flies, known locally as “helicopter torture.” Little wonder that there are attempts underway to have the Eritrean government charged with crimes against humanity. source Eritrea uses horrific torture methods, why does the world not react?
  4. Church of Our Lady of the Rosary in Asmara, Eritrea. The Eritrean government has arrested nearly 100 Christians this month as part of the massive crackdown against unregistered churches. According to World Watch Monitor, the arrests took place in the days leading up to Eritrea's Independence Day on May 24. On May 9, a total of 10 Christians were arrested from a home in Ginda, north-east of Asmara, for holding secret meetings there. Church members have resorted to holding secret meetings in people's houses since a law was passed in 2002, banning churches other than the Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran Churches, and also Sunni Islam. On May 17, more than 35 Christians were arrested from their homes in Adi Quala, a market town some 16 miles (25 kilometers) from the Ethiopian border in the country's Southern Region. The arrests reportedly took place after the officials went door-to-door on May 15 and asked household members to indicate whether they were Muslim, Jehovah's Witnesses, or members of the Orthodox Church, Lutheran Church, Catholic Church or Pentecostal Church. The next day, security officers came to arrest all those who indicated they were Pentecostals. On May 24, the authorities reportedly arrested 49 Evangelicals outside the capital Asmara, during a post-wedding celebration. The newly-weds, who were in their late 20s, were among those who were arrested. The crackdown on Christians is not limited to members of unauthorized churches. In 2007, the authorities removed the legitimate patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Abune Antonios, from office and installed Bishop Dioskoros of Mendefera in his place. The move has been seen as a violation of the Church's constitution since the patriarch is traditionally appointed by Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Pope, for life. Antonios had come under fire from the government beginning 2006 when he refused to excommunicate 3,000 members of the Medhane Alem Orthodox Sunday School revival movement and called for the release of imprisoned Christians accused of treason. The government stripped him of his title in 2007, but he is still recognized as canonical patriarch by the Eritrean Churches in Diaspora and by Oriental Orthodox Churches. The 89-year-old patriarch has been held under house arrest since 2007, but the location of his incarceration remains unknown. His family and friends are concerned that he is not receiving adequate medical treatment as he is suffering from diabetes. "He remains incommunicado under house arrest despite reports emanating from Eritrea during August 2016 that indicated his release was imminent," said advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) in a statement. CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas called for the patriarch's immediate and unconditional release as well as his reinstatement. "We also to urge the international community not only to express concern at the patriarch's plight, but to also remind the Eritrean authorities that his removal constituted an unlawful interference in church affairs, and to request his immediate release and return to office," he added. source
  5. President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea, shedding blood of Jehovah's Witnesses ERITREA – The hands of President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea are filled with the blood of Jehovah’s Witnesses who have died for inhuman treatment under incarceration for daring to serve God. Under President Isaias Afwerki, at least 5 members of Jehovah’s Witnesses have died. They were arrested for unknown reason and kept in detention under condition only good enough to fall sick and die. Misghina Gebretinsae and Yohannes Haile died in the Meitir prison, while Kahssay Mekonnen and Goitom Gebrekristos and Tsehaye Tesfamariam died after they were released. “Tsehaye Tesfamariam died in Asmara on November 30, 2016. He was released from prison on September 10, 2015, because he was critically ill and did not receive proper medical care and treatment during his incarceration. “On October 5, 2011, Mr. Tesfamariam and 24 other male Witnesses imprisoned at the Meitir Camp were placed in a half-buried metal building for special punishment until August 2012. “After enduring through the intense summer heat with inadequate food and insufficient water, the health of several of them became critical ”, the JW.org said. He was born in 1941 in Nefasit, Eritrea, and is survived by his wife, Hagosa Kebreab, whom he married in 1973. They had four daughters and three sons. He was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1958.
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  6. Just teenagers at the time, all three are Jehovah's Witnesses, and they refuse to compromise their integrity. On September 24, 1994, three young men, all teenagers, were rounded up and sent to a concentration camp. Their crime? They refused military service on the grounds of their strongly held religious convictions – an entitlement that ironically, one year later, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights reinforced as an acceptable concession that all world nations should adhere to. Nevertheless, down to this very day, Paulos Eyassu, Negede Teklemariam and Isaac Mogos – all Jehovah’s Witnesses – remain jailed in the Sawa prison camp in the country of #Eritrea, eastern Africa. Without the benefit of any legal framework, the men were detained without cause, without due process and incredulously, have never been formally charged with any crime. The prisoners have spent their youth behind bars. The three detainees are all now in the 40s. They have given up the primes of their lives – the chance to wed and start a family – and their opportunity to worship their God shoulder to shoulder with fellow believers. They quietly remain steadfast in their determination to endure for what they know in their hearts is pleasing in God’s eyes. “It is in Eritrea, more than anywhere else in the world, that Jehovah’s Witnesses experience the most intense persecution,” says a report on the Jehovah’s Witnesses web site, JW.org. The three men are among 55 other Jehovah’s Witnesses jailed in Eritrea for either conscientious objection to conscription military service or for their peaceful religious activity. By this, all will know you are my disciples... In a country like Eritrea – where a citizen and a solder and perceived as one and the same – Jehovah’s Witnesses stand out in stark contrast. They will endure prison camps, beatings and torture, but they will not join military ranks. They steadfastly believe in “beating their swords into plowshares” and not “learning war anymore,” says the book of Isaiah. Their international brotherhood practices love for one another. (John 13:34, 35) No Jehovah’s Witness would ever be found in a battlefield, looking across at a fellow Witness, waiting to kill one another or anyone else. Jesus said in the verse cited above that all would know who his disciples are, if they have "love among themselves." If only all major religions practiced what they preached. US Department of State report. According to a US Department of State commentary on religious freedoms in Eritrea, citizens there are generally “tolerant of those practicing other religions; exceptions included negative societal attitudes toward Jehovah's Witnesses… and conscientious objectors to military service based on religious beliefs.” Jehovah’s Witnesses are the largest recognized religious organization whose members welcome disciplinary alternatives as opposed to taking up arms in wars. The State department report also details how government officials actively and intentionally single out Witnesses of Jehovah and subject them to unlawful actions and targeted discrimination. “Although members of several religious groups were imprisoned in past years for failure to participate in required national military service, the government singled out Jehovah's Witnesses to receive harsher treatment than that given to others,” the report cites, adding that many of the religion’s members have been detained for more than a decade and a half – a term “far beyond the maximum legal penalty of two years for refusing to perform national service.” In addition, Jehovah's Witnesses in Eritrea have had their business licenses revoked without cause, been evicted out of government-subsidized housing units and been denied common government paperwork needed for travel, such as passports and visas. Philip Brumley, general counsel for Jehovah’s Witnesses: “It is our fervent hope that the government of Eritrea will release all Witness prisoners, including these three men who have been detained for 20 years, and bring an end to the persecution of our fellow believers.”
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