Relatives of three prominent Eritrean pastors jailed since May discovered Tuesday that the three evangelical leaders have been transferred from their police station cells in the capitol of Asmara to an unknown location, say local sources.
According to reports, Rev. Haile Naizgi and Dr. Kiflu Gebremeske of the Full Gospel Church and pastor Tesfatsion Hagos of the Rema Evangelical Church were discovered missing yesterday morning when families and friends of the men went to the respective police stations where the men have been imprisoned for the past three months without charges, but were informed by authorities that the men were no longer there.
Evangelicals who later visited the wives of Naizgi and Gebremeske said they found them "in distress and deep sadness over the sudden disappearance of their husbands."
“Such disappearances could be for the good, or for the worse,” one source told Compass News.
“There are times that the security people take you to unknown places for a couple of hours or days, and then release you with serious warnings,” he said. “Or, they can just leave you there for an unlimited time.”
Naizgi and Gebremeske, imprisoned since May 23, and Hago, arrested on May 26, were not given a reason for their imprisonment, and were not charged with any legal offense. Under standard procedures, any Eritrean citizen arrested by the police or military forces is subjected to thorough interrogation within the first 24-hours of arrest. However, Compass confirmed that the three pastors were not summoned for questioning by local authorities until mid-July, seven weeks after their arrest.
Family remembers reportedly petitioned in mid-July that the government release the men on bail, thus requiring that they be charged formally before a court of law. However, the petition went unanswered.
Compass reported that over the past three years, 11 former government ministers, 14 journalists and thousands of other political dissidents have been detained and incarcerated in secret locations. Meanwhile, the families of those imprisoned have no information whether they are dead or alive.
In the most recently reported arrests on July 25, police arrested 30 guests and members of a Protestant wedding party in Senafe, jailing them for four days and then releasing all but two. A Kale Hiwot Church evangelist named Michel and Teame Kibrom, an elderly man in his 80s, are believed to still remain under arrest.
However, Compass recently confirmed that a Kale Hiwot leader named Woldegabriel Gebremichel, 80, was not among the wedding prisoners, as initially reported. According to his relatives, Gebremichel had attended a separate wedding that week of his own son in Senafe, which was not disrupted by the police.
Currently more than 400 members of evangelical churches in Eritrea are known to be imprisoned for their faith, including more than 70 soldiers held under severe conditions for more than two years at the Assab Military Prison.