Tuesday, June 4, 2019

RLPB 505. Eritrea: Christian Crisis in the Horn of Africa

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 505 | Wed 05 Jun 2019
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PLUS Update on Sudan: Khartoum not far from Beijing
-- by Elizabeth Kendal

click on map to enlarge
On 9 July 2018 Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (42) and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki (73, president since 1993) signed a 'declaration of peace and friendship' and declared the 'state of war' officially over. [See Religious Liberty Monitoring, 23 July 2018.] President Afwerki has long used the 'Ethiopian threat' as a pretext to justify his regime's violent and repressive dictatorship and the need for indefinite National (military) Service. Consequently, many hoped that peace would pave the way for reform, especially improvements in human rights. Unfortunately, it seems Eritrea's rulers are interested not in Eritreans, nor in their own legacy. Eritrea's rulers are interested only in regime survival and how they might cling to their power and privilege. When President Afwerki addressed the nation on Independence Day, 24 May 2019, he spoke of the need for stability and security, stressing 'patience' and ruling out 'hasty and emotional conclusions', dashing any lingering hopes for reform.
Meanwhile, thousands of prisoners of conscience remain incarcerated. Some key leaders have been detained for over a decade, such as the chair of the Eritrean Evangelical Alliance, Dr Kiflu Gebremeskel, who has been held incommunicado, without charge or trial since his arrest in May 2004. Though Eritrea might no longer be in a 'state of war', indefinite military service remains in place with police and military increasingly resorting to giffas (flash raids) to conscript children forcibly.

An Eritrean woman prays
at dawn beside an
Orthodox Church at Adi-Harush
refugee camp in Ethiopia.
(WSJ  Feb 2016)
As long as the human rights situation remains appalling, so too will the refugee outflow. When the border with Ethiopia was opened in September 2018, the rate of Eritreans fleeing into Ethiopia increased more than fourfold. At that time there were already 175,000 Eritrean refuges in Ethiopia, a large proportion of whom were unaccompanied minors. By 22 April 2019 President Afwerki had unilaterally closed all the border crossings into Ethiopia. Despite this, Eritreans are still fleeing at the rate of around 4000 per month. Most hope human traffickers will get them through Sudan and Libya to Europe. Many never make it, while many who do, find life as refugees in Europe just as intolerable as life in Eritrea.

Doubtless watching events in Khartoum, Afwerki has determined there will be no protests in Asmara. Consequently, the regime was on high alert throughout May as the country prepared to celebrate Independence Day (24 May). Sources told Release International that the regime had flooded the streets of Asmara with police and secret police and raided several Protestant groups. On 10 May 141 Eritrean Christians, including 14 minors, were arrested as they gathered in the Mai Temenai administration area in north-east Asmara. According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, men and women were separated and sent to separate detention centres. Around 50 believers were subsequently released. A further 30 Christians were arrested on 17 May as they gathered in two locations in the Godaif administration area in south-west Asmara. According to Release International, some of those detained on 17 May are believed to be in Adi Abeito prison, close to where they were arrested, while others are still being held by police. Barely survivable, conditions in detention are among the worst in the world; torture is routine.


* 'bind the strong man' (Satan) so that the brutal regime of President Isaias Afwerki will crumble; may it be powerless to resist the desire of the Eritrean people (for liberty) and the will and purpose of God (redemption). (See Mark 3:27 and Ephesians 1:7-10).

* preserve and sustain his long-suffering precious Church in Eritrea; may she have wisdom to navigate the treacherous path before her and may all her captives be freed.

[The Lord] has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour. (Luke 4:16-21 ESV)

* magnify the voice of the Body of Christ, along with that of the increasingly united and active Eritrean Diaspora, so that voiceless Eritreans, including those of Eritrea's severely persecuted, long-suffering Church, will have a voice that will be heard on earth and in heaven.

Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. (Hebrews 13:3 ESV). 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.' (From Matthew 25:31-46 ESV)


President Afwerki has long used the 'Ethiopian threat' as a pretext to justify his repressive dictatorship and indefinite military service. Consequently, when Ethiopia and Eritrea brokered peace in July 2018, many hoped human rights would improve. Today, however, Eritrea's human rights remain among the worst in the world and Eritreans continue to flee en masse. To prevent protests as the nation prepared to celebrate Independence Day (24 May), the regime deployed police and soldiers to the streets of Asmara and raided several Protestant groups. On 10 May 141 Christians, including 14 minors, were arrested as they gathered in north-east Asmara; 50 were subsequently released. A further 30 Christians were arrested on 17 May in gatherings in south-west Asmara. Conditions in detention are horrendous; torture is routine. Please pray for Eritrea and its Christians.



RLPB 502, 'New Sudan' in sight, not yet in hand (15 May 2019)
RLPB 504, Update Sudan: counter-revolution in the making (29 May 2019)

4 June 2019,
at least 35 protesters killed,
dozens missing, 116 wounded,
many critically.
image: Sudan Tribune.
By 5 June, the death toll
had risen to 60 (BBC).
By 6 June, the toll had
risen to at least 100 after
40 bodies were recovered
from the Nile (BBC).
Around 5am on Monday 3 June armed men, believed to be members of the notorious Rapid Support Forces (RSF), stormed the sit-in outside military headquarters and opened fire on unarmed protesters. According to the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors (a member organisation of the Sudan Professionals Association which has led the protests) soldiers chased the wounded all the way to and even inside East Nile Hospital where they also bashed and raped medical staff, looted supplies and destroyed property. At least 35 protesters are dead, dozens are missing and at least 116 are wounded, many critically. The counter-revolution was launched after Transitional Military Council (TMC) head General Abdel Fattah Al Burhan and deputy head Lt-Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo ('Hemeti') had shored up support in Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Despite having been dispersed, the protesters are determined to escalate their campaign of 'comprehensive civil disobedience'. They want nothing less than a 'New Sudan' free of sharia, jihad, ethnic and religious hatred, and oppressive military dictatorship.

Admittedly, the protests and the 3 June crackdown in Khartoum have not been on the same scale as the 1989 protests and 4 June crackdown in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. However, the aspirations of Sudan's protesters are just as lofty as those in Tiananmen Square, and the threat posed by the ruling regime is just as dire. The Sudanese, like the Chinese, are captives of a regime that will not hesitate to unleash deadly violence on anyone who threatens its power and privilege. Neither regime cares what the US or the UK thinks. The TMC knows the West is unlikely to sacrifice anything for the people of Sudan; hence impunity is all but guaranteed. The TMC has cancelled all agreements with the opposition and called for elections in nine months; i.e., before the opposition can organise a serious challenge to the already highly organised military regime and its Islamist backers. Please pray.


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com