Rev Dr Futsum Gebrenegus is an Eritrean Orthodox priest and psychiatrist who was arrested in November 2004 because of his involvement in the Medhane Alem Bible study group, a renewal movement within the Eritrean Orthodox Church. He has remained in prison, incommunicado, ever since.
LATEST NEWS (January 2024): In late 2023 it became known that Dr Futsum was in good health. He is being held in a room with several other senior pastors.
Dr Futsum was Eritrea’s only psychiatrist and appeared regularly on Eritrean TV as he held positions on many government-appointed commissions. Until his arrest, he was the most senior doctor at St Mary’s Psychiatric Hospital in Asmara.
Dr Futsum served as a deacon in the Eritrean Orthodox Church from childhood. He was then ordained priest and became one of the organisers of the renewal movement centred on the Medhane Alem (Saviour of the World) church in Asmara, along with Rev Dr Tekleab Menghisteab and Rev Gebremedhin Gebregiorsis. On 19 November 2004, Dr Futsum and Dr Tekleab went to a conference organised by the Ministry of Health at which they were both scheduled to make presentations on their research. Security forces arrested both as they entered the conference venue, and Rev Gebremedhin was arrested the same day.
Following the arrest of the three Christians, the government closed down the Medhane Alem church in which they had grown up and served all their lives, and the congregation was forced to disperse.
Dr Futsum, Dr Tekleab and Rev Gebremedhin are imprisoned in the notorious maximum-security Wengel Mermera Central Criminal Investigation interrogation centre, part of Asmara’s 2nd Police Station, together with several other Christian leaders including Dr Kiflu Gebremeskel, Pastor Kidane Weldou, Mussie Ezaz and Pastor Meron Gebreselasie. It is believed that many of Eritrea’s prominent political and military prisoners are also incarcerated in this dungeon-like inner labyrinth of cells.
The Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Abune Antonios, protested about the arrests of Dr Futsum and his fellow priests and accused the government of interfering in church affairs. He was deposed in 2006, replaced as patriarch by a government appointee and put under house arrest until his death in 2022.
Dr Futsum is a close friend of Dr Berhane Asmelash, Director of Release Eritrea. They were in the same Bible study group in Eritrea and were both members of a Medical Doctors Christian Alliance. Dr Berhane reports that Dr Futsum worked hard to improve mental health in Eritrea and that “everyone loved him“.
Dr Futsum is a widower with one son who lives in Eritrea. Dr Futsum’s wife died of cancer during his imprisonment and he was not permitted to see her before she died nor to attend her funeral. His father also died during his imprisonment and he was not allowed to attend his funeral either. Dr Futsum’s elderly mother was seen receiving medical treatment in South Africa in late 2023. He also has several brothers and sisters.
(Human Rights Without Frontiers, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, In Chains for Christ, Release Eritrea)