Leaders of Banned Churches Hunted, Arrested

The Christian News Network, a US-based news and information provider, reported yesterday that the Eritrean regime has arrested 10 leaders of Christian denominations who were officially banned in 2002.  The report says that the arrests started on Thursday the 17th of January and it quotes a source who explains that what makes this campaign different from previous others is that the intent appears to be to ”eradicate the underground church by targeting its key leaders around the country.”

An Eritrean with close connections to the banned churches tells Gedab News that the arrests were co-ordinated and the movements of the church leaders had been closely followed for some time.

“The numbers are not clear but it is a bit more than 20,” says the source.

The leaders, according to our source,  were taken from their homes, from almost every fellowship and churches.

They are presumed arrested and nobody knows which prison they are being held in.

On May 2002, the Eritrean regime issued a decree demanding that all religions and denominations register and apply for a license to operate in Eritrea.  It  then proceeded to create a rigged application process that would approve only Islam and three Christian denominations–Tewahdo, Catholic and Lutheran–to operate in Eritrea.  The license application for the other Christian denominations–mostly Evangelicals–was neither approved nor rejected: it has been in suspended state for eleven years.  This allows the Eritrean regime to say that there are no “banned churches” in Eritrea,  only churches whose licenses to operate in the country have not been approved.

Eritrea’s president is less guarded in disclosing his motivation.  When asked about this issue, Isaias Afwerki, who never shies away from an opportunity to present himself as an expert on every subject, has ridiculed the very idea of newer denominations by saying that the Koran and the Bible are old documents and since there are no new revelations, there should be no need for new denominations with new interpretations of the holy books.  Using this dogma, the Eritrean regime has banned Jehovah’s Witnesses, arrested its leaders and confiscated their property (since 1994); it has banned  all Seventh-day Adventist (LDS), and all non-Protestant Evangelical denominations, as well other “Imperial” religions like Bahai.

Selefi Muslims (derisively called “Wahabis”) who claim that their goal is to purify Islam from the corrupting influences of traditions  are banned from operating in Eritrea.  Many of those suspected of being Selfis (or, more conveniently, “Fifth Columnists” or “Jihadis” or “terrorists”) have been rounded up since 1994.

The regime also has interfered in the church affairs of the Tewahdo Church going to the previously unheard-of extent of arresting its highly respected patriarch and appointing one of its choosing.  The patriarch of the Tewahdo Church, Abune Antonios, has been under house arrest since January 2006 and stripped of his title since 2007.

The Catholic Church has had to shut down its newsletter, and scale down its charitable operations.  It also has to disclose, annually, how much money–and in-kind contribution– it receives from the Vatican.
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