Eritrea cracks down on gospel singers

From Amnesty International, Dec. 7:

Eritrea: Government must end religious persecution

“You will receive no visitors and you will rot here until you sign this paper.”

The reported words of an Eritrean military commander to Helen Berhane, a well known gospel singer of the Rema Church who has been detained incommunicado in Mai Serwa military camp since 13 May 2004. She is currently held in a metal shipping container.

Helen Berhane is just one of many people in Eritrea who are locked up because they do not belong to an officially recognised faith. In the last 3 years, at least 26 pastors and priests, some 1750 evangelical church members, and dozens of Muslims have been detained by the government. Many have been tortured and churches have been shut down.

Amnesty International today launches a report documenting 44 incidents of religious persecution since 2003. The report, Eritrea: Religious Persecution, shows how there have been increasing violations in Eritrea of the right to freedom of religion, belief and conscience. Some who do not follow the officially recognised religions have been sentenced to prison terms by a secret security committee without any legal representation or right of appeal.

“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 facing this reality in Eritrea”, said Kolawole Olaniyan, Director of Amnesty International’s Africa programme.

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 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,” said Kolawole Olaniyan, Director of Amnesty International’s Africa programme.

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


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.

See our last post on Eritrea.

  1. Jehovah’s Witnesses “persecution”
    A heads up on the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jehovah’s Witnesses are a classic high demand destructive cult.Jonestown without the kool-aid.

    The Watchtower Corporation is a media publishing, real estate development, and convention sponsoring company and their literature all promotes the corporation and those goals.

    I have Jehovah’s Witnesses family in Naples Florida who practice the Watchtower JW enforced ritual shunning that i have not seen or heard from in 15 years. Yes,you can ‘check out anytime you want but you can never leave’ they can and will hold your family hostage.

    I am not the only one,the ‘fraud in the name of God’ Jehovah’s Witnesses have defrauded MILLIONS of followers. When the Watchtower corporate racket is held accountable for their misdeeds they scream religious ‘persecution’.

    To even vocally question the teachings of the Jehovah’s Witness organization will result in complete cutting off, with family and friends usually being forbidden to talk to them.

    The Watchtower is a truly ORWELLIAN world, in a time when Orwellian societies are nearly obsolete. There are tens of thousands of pages up from disgruntled ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses all over the world in many languages.

    Google don’t lie!—–
    All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men/women to do nothing-Danny Haszard Bangor Maine

    1. “Google don’t lie”?
      Excuse me, my niavete meter just went into tilt.

      So let’s assume everything you say is true. That means it’s OK for Eritrea to imprison them?

      1. know some facts
        Before you start judging the Eritrean gov. why don’t you do some information searching, like talking to actual eritreans. I don’t believe as an Eritrean national, Eritrea should be on a list of worst offenders on Religion and on top of that to put sanctions on this small, poor country. All you have to do is look at the Middle East. I know there is not much countries there with good repuatations on religous freedom,but does a country like Saudi Arabia who made the list get any sanctions?? Also another country like China is listed, but is there any sanctions against it for it’s violations?? The key thing people must understand is if you are of ECONOMICAL IMPORTANCE to the United States then no sanctions will be necssary, but if you are not of interest then sanctions will surely be applied.

          1. Re: Religious persecution in Eritrea is not a “fact”?
            Hi Bill:

            Actually, you’re wrong about the United States not imposing saction against Eritrea already. The U.S. has already imposed a military saction against Eritrea. Check the link below if you want to see yourself.


            While as an Eritrean I’m completely opposed to the Eritrean government’s crude and shameful actions against certain Christian sects, I equally reject the supposed U.S. government’s “concern” about these believers. Any decent human being with an ounce of integrity knows full well that the U.S. government has never taken the best interest of Eritreans into consideration. Whether it’s during the Cold War or the current border issue, the American government’s policy towards Eritrea has been so replete with transparent double-standards and utter disregard of Eritrea’s national security interest that it’s nothing short of reprehensible.

            I guess the only thing that suprise me is how officials in the U.S. governemnt are, with a straight face, able to feign “concern” for a few thousand Eritreans while other arms of the same American government do their level best to undermine the well-being of Eritrea and Eritreans. I guess this is part of the genius of the system.

            1. We agree…
              that the double standard is abhorrant (Saudi Arabia gets a pass, while Washington imposes at least limited sanctions on arms sales to Eritrea). But if the US is such a monster, why do you want their guns so bad?

              1. Re: We agree
                Bill wrote:
                [major snip]
                “But if the US is such a monster, why do you want their guns so bad?”

                Well, I guess by “you” I’m assuming you’re referring to Eritreans. If that’s the case, I don’t think it will be easy for you to find any Eritrean who is eager to purchase military weapons from the United States. I don’t think even the Eritrean governemnt was or is eager to buy weapons from the U.S. Why? Well, for one thing whatever the U.S. is willing to sell to nations such as Eritrea can be purchased elsewhere on the cheap. As for things like Stingers, which Eritrea probably needs to neutralize Ethiopia’s advantage in the air, is something Uncle Sam doesn’t want to sell to poor little Eritrea.

                As for your “monster” comment, I don’t know how you could have arrived at a conclusion that I hold such a view of the United States. As someone who’s lived in the U.S. for a while, I love this land and its people. I don’t simply loved it because I’ve done relatively well for myself here; I love most of the value of its generous, creative and freedom-loving people. I will even say that I respect and honor what the U.S. government has done in many places such as Japan, Germany, Western Europe (after WW II), South Korea and to a lesser extent, Eastern Europe after the end of the Cold War. I even thought the U.S. government’s action in Somalia was noble.

                Now, am I supposed to ignore how destructive the U.S. has been toward Eritrea and Eritreans in the last few decades because I love this land its people? To be quite frank with you, I really didn’t expect a thinker of your caliber to conclude from what I wrote that I was somehow anti-American for writing critically about the U.S. government’s actions toward Eritrea.