Campaign for religious freedom outside Eritrean Embassy in London

( [email protected] ) May 24, 2004 03:17 PM EDT

LONDON,UK---Protestors campaigned outside the Eritrean Embassy last Friday, May 21, in response to the continuing persecution of Christians.

Around 25 campaigners met outside the embassy from 11am to 12.30pm on White Lion Street, Islington, London. Most of them were Eritreans, they held up banners, sang choruses of protest and prayed for religious freedom. A giant Bible behind bars was also formed for visual focus.

The following day, the 22nd May was the second anniversary of the government's banning of all but three denominations in Eritrea, and in response CSW has called for a day of fasting and prayer.

CSW is highly concerned about the religious freedom in Eritrea. Indeed this is not the first time that CSW has held the campaign; they held one on the International Human Rights Day last year in December and also another one on August 2003.

The four million people in the country are almost evenly split between Christians and Muslims and generally interfaith relations have been good. But since 1993 when Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia, the ruling Popular Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) has banned religious organisations from involvement in politics or from commenting in detail on political matters, in fear of extreme groups of either Christians or Muslims.

On 22nd May 2002, the PFDJ ordered the closure of all churches not belonging to the Orthodox, Roman Catholic or Evangelical Lutheran denominations. So far, at least 36 churches have been closed.

Even though the Eritrean Constitution allows for freedom of conscience, religion, movement, assembly, organisation and expression of opinion, the constitution has yet to be implemented.

The police have raided prayer meetings held in the private homes and arrested evangelists and members, charging them with holding illegal meetings. They even arrested families as they prayed together in their own homes.

Non-orthodox church buildings have been confiscated, meetings have been disrupted, and church leaders and members have been detained, beaten, tortured, threatened and even killed.

According to CSW, at least 375 Christians were in prison, many having served nearly two years. Hundreds of Christians, including young children, have been arrested for simply having a Bible or attending Christian meetings.

In addition to coordinating the protest outside the Eritrean Embassy, CSW has raised the mistreatment of Christians with the British Foreign Office and the European Union as well as providing detailed briefings to other key advocates.

Reverend Abraham Y Bula, Chair of the Eritrean Christian Fellowship in Europe (ECFE) said, "Several times we have written to the President and also tried to address ambassadors and representatives of the government in our respective countries of residence, this has to date been to no avail. By contrast the purge against fellow Christians in Eritrea has been relentless and now we are forced to expose this to international organisations."

Tina Lambert, Advocacy Director of CSW said: "The situation over the last year has become worse, not better, for Eritrean Christians. Despite repeated assurances from the government there is no problem, hundreds of Christians remain behind bars simply for following their faith. It is our privilege to stand with Eritrean Christians as they campaign for religious freedom in their country."