ERITREA: Remembering the prisoners (living and dead)

Version 2A minute’s silence was held during the annual vigil on behalf of Christian prisoners, at the Eritrean Embassy in London, to remember prisoners of conscience who died during the past year as well as two long-term supporters of Eritrean Christian prisoners.

Pictured on a banner at the vigil were: Fikadu Debesay (an evangelical Christian who died in prison in August 2017 of untreated kidney disease); Haji Musa Mohammed Nura (a respected Muslim leader in his 90’s who died in detention in March 2018) and two long-term Jehovah’s Witness prisoners who had been imprisoned since 2008 (Habtemichael Tesfariam, 76, and Habtemichael Mekonen, 77). The banner also honoured two men who consistently supported the cause of freedom for Eritrean Christians (Rev Stuart Windsor of Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Lúc Verling of Church in Chains).

eritrea-vigil-2018-cic-bannerThis year’s vigil (jointly organised by Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Church in Chains, Human Rights Concern Eritrea, Medhane Alem Eritrean Orthodox Church and Release Eritrea) marked the 16th anniversary of the Eritrean government’s decision to close down all churches in the country apart from Orthodox, Lutheran and Roman Catholic (which operate under strict government control).

Christians from Britain and Ireland attended the event as well as members of the Eritrean Christian community in the UK.

eritrea-vigil-fr-shenoudaThe event featured speeches on the church in Eritrea and Christian prisoners by Fr Shenouda of the Eritrean Orthodox Church (pictured), Eritrean refugees and victims of trafficking by Elsa Chyrum of Human Rights Concern Eritrea, and the Eritrean government by Dr Berhane Asmelash (Release Eritrea).

In each case, the speech was followed by prayers for the situation just described. The vigil also included some relevant Bible readings and praise songs. Mervyn Thomas of CSW also spoke and prayed during the event.

eritrea-vigil-2018-letterThe vigil culminated in the delivery of a letter from the sponsoring organisations to the Embassy by Dr Berhane Asmelash (Release Eritrea), Fr Shenouda (Eritrean Orthodox Church), Mervyn Thomas (Christian Solidarity Worldwide) and David Turner (Church in Chains). Though a member of the embassy staff opened the door to allow a visitor to leave, he refused to receive the letter from the delegation and instead pointed to the letterbox in the door that he was holding.

The letter, addressed to Ambassador Estifanos Habtemariam Ghebreyesus, expressed dismay “at the unjust ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial of tens of thousands of Eritrean citizens, including hundreds of Christians detained solely on account of their faith”.

The letter continued by expressing concern about the continuing detention of Abune Antonios, the elderly legitimate Orthodox patriarch, who is entering his eleventh year under incommunicado house arrest, and appealing for his immediate release.

The letter continued: “We share the concern of Ms Kate Gilmore, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, about the fact that over 100 people were arrested in Eritrea in 2017 for practising their religion, and note with alarm reports of more Christians being arrested in recent months.”

The letter ended with a call for “the granting of full religious freedom to all of Eritrea’s faith communities, and for the unconditional release of every prisoner of conscience”.