10 June 2016, The Tablet

UN urges religious freedom in Eritrea as government cracks down on faithful

Orthodox patriarch among number of religious leaders jailed by Horn of Africa state

While citing systematic and widespread human rights abuses in Eritrea, UN's Human Rights Commission has called for the respect of religion and belief in the horn of Africa country.

The Catholic Church is one of four religious denominations authorised to operate by the government in the Red Sea country. The others are the Eritrean Orthodox, Evangelical Lutheran and Sunni Islam, but many protestant, pentecostal and evangelical groups are not allowed to operate.

The commission said in the report released on June 8 that state authorities have cracked down and detained members of unauthorised religious groups, such as the Pentecostal churches and Jehovah Witness.

Since 2007, the former Patriarch of the Eritrean Tewahedo Orthodox Church, Abune Antonios, is under house arrest, strict surveillance and held without charge. The 89 years old patriarch was forcefully removed from office by government after he protested the authority’s interference in church matters. He is the most senior religious figure currently serving a detention.

“Sources said the victims has asked for the release of Patriarch Abune Antonios,” said report

Unconfirmed number of priests, deacons and monks of the Eritrean Orthodox Church have been arbitrary arrested and detained, according to report.

The country has scored poorly in global freedom indexes, with its fleeing citizen accounting for a large number of refugees trying to cross to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea. The report indicated that the government of President Isaias Afwerki also kill those trying to flee the country.

It has since rejected the report which details extrajudicial killings, torture, sexual slavery and forced labour, saying the accounts were exaggerated. In the past, the country has also been accused supporting radical Islam in the region, especially in Somalia.

In the report, the UN body calls for immediate and unconditional release all those arbitrary detained, an end to arbitrary arrests and detention of individuals based on religious beliefs.

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