Tuesday, November 5, 2013

RLPB 235. Eritrea: persecution fills prisons, fuels refugee crisis

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 235 | Wed 06 Nov 2013

Plus -- tensions high in Egypt and Pakistan
By Elizabeth Kendal

In 2001 the Eritrean government cancelled elections, arrested political opponents and closed down independent media. Determined to eliminate anything that could threaten national cohesion, the regime extended the repression in May 2002 to 'foreign' and 'non-traditional' religious groups. That meant all except the state-sanctioned Muslim, Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Lutheran denominations were banned. Since then, many thousands of mostly evangelical Christians have suffered severely at the hands of a regime known for its human rights abuses, appalling prison conditions and widespread use of torture. Even teenagers are not spared and must complete military service in military training camps before they can graduate from school. Separated from their parents, religious persecution in these camps is systematic and severe. (See RLPB 221, Eritrea: systematic persecution of Protestant youths, 30 July 2013).

World Watch Monitor reports that during the week of 14 October, Wehazit Berhane Debesai, an Eritrean Christian woman in her 30s, died in custody after a year of harsh imprisonment. Wehazit died of pneumonia after being denied medical treatment because she refused to deny her faith. On 28 October Eritrean security forces raided a prayer meeting in Maitemenai, a suburb north of the capital Asmara. They arrested between 70 Christians (as reported by Open Doors) and 185 Christians (according to Release International). Where they are is not yet confirmed. The total number of Eritrean believers currently incarcerated for their faith is estimated at 1500.

On 24 October the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Sheila B Keetharuth, raised the issue of Eritrea's human rights in the UN General Assembly. She noted that serious human rights abuses are behind the flight of up to 3000 Eritreans each month. 'The current human rights picture is desperately bleak,' she told journalists. 'People feel trapped in a long hopeless situation.' Later, several NGOs jointly hosted  a side meeting on Eritrea at which five Eritrean victims gave their personal testimonies. Elsa Chyrum, Director of Human Rights Concern Eritrea, noted: 'Although the human rights situation is extremely alarming in Eritrea, this is the first time that it has been brought to the attention of the General Assembly by the UN-appointed Special Rapporteur. It is clear the recent Lampedusa tragedy which resulted in the loss of over 350 lives, the vast majority of whom were Eritreans, has had an impact on the consciences of many state governments, leading to questions being asked relating to the root causes of those who were fleeing.' Indeed, not only were most of the refugees involved in the Lampedusa tragedy Eritreans, but according to Father Mussie Zerai, Chairman of the Habeshia Agency which works on behalf of these migrants, the majority of those Eritreans were Christians.

According to a recently published report from the Feinstein International Center, Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA, those fleeing Eritrea usually employ people smugglers to take them north through Sudan to Libya before they embark on the dangerous voyage across the Mediterranean to the EU. Alternatively they may go north through eastern Sudan and Egypt to Israel, or south into Ethiopia, South Sudan and beyond. The route through eastern Sudan is especially high risk. Increasingly Bedouin traffickers are kidnapping Eritrean refugees straight out of Sudanese refugee camps. The Eritreans are then taken to concrete bunker torture chambers in the Sinai (Egypt) where they are tortured while money is extorted from their relatives via mobile phone. A Catholic nun who serves the Eritrean community in Israel says they recently heard that 'with God's help, 150 people escaped from the torture camps, as a result of the chaotic situation prevailing in the Sinai following the attacks by the Egyptian army. But the escapees have disappeared; we do not know what has happened to them.'

The trafficking of Eritrean refugees has become an extremely lucrative business. As noted in RLPB 205 -- Egypt: evil thrives in lawless Sinai (10 April 2013) -- the corruption trail stretches right back to Eritrea where the regime is busy not only creating refugees but in profiting from their misery.


* break the arm (the mechanism of action) of the wicked (Psalm 10:15) who profit from misery. Lord, eliminate the demand by destroying the Bedouin trafficking rings and Sinai torture chambers. Lord, eliminate the corruption by heaping consequences on those who profit from human suffering. Lord, eliminate the supply by bringing radical change to Eritrea so that the flow of refugees might cease at its source. 

* break the arm of the wicked who inflict violence and torture on the Lord's beloved. Lord, convict them of sin, soften their hearts, restrain or remove them.

Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer;
    call his wickedness to account till you find none.
(Psalm 10:15 ESV)

* protect, sustain and comfort his suffering people, providing them with all their needs.

* bring revival to Catholic, Orthodox and Lutheran state-sanctioned churches, so that disunity will dissolve and believers will love, care for and cover one another; may the Lord so work in the Eritrean Church that she is refined as pure silver for future ministry and for the glory of God.


Up to 3000 Eritreans flee persecution every month. Their extreme danger was shown by the recent Lampedusa tragedy. The vast majority of over 350 lives lost were Eritreans, most of whom were Christians. Those fleeing for asylum via Israel risk falling into the hands of Bedouin traffickers in eastern Sudan. These victims of the Bedouin are tortured so as to extort money from their relatives. Despite the risks, the situation in Eritrea is so horrendous that the flow continues. Some 1500 Christians are currently incarcerated in Eritrea purely because of their faith. On 14 October another young Christian died in captivity. On 28 October a prayer meeting was raided and over 70 believers were arrested. Please pray for God to intervene in Eritrea.



* Egypt, where the trial of Mohamed Morsi has began. Minutes into the first session (3 November) the trial was adjourned to 8 January 2014, due to courtroom chaos. Pray that God will surround his people and protect Christian churches, schools, hospitals and other property from reprisal attacks by Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

* Pakistan, after the 1 November drone assassination of Hakeemullah Mehsud, the emir of the al Qaeda-linked Tehreek-e-Taliban.  Pray that God will surround his people and protect Christian churches, schools, hospitals and other property from Taliban reprisal attacks.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)