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World News

Catholic clergymen released from detention in Eritrea

by Donna Birrell

The persecution watchdogs Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) and Human Rights Watch Eritrea (HRCE) are welcoming the news that three Catholic clergymen who were detained by authorities in Eritrea have been released. The men were detained in separate incidents in October.

Abune Tsalim, the first Bishop of the Catholic Eparchy of Segheneity was arrested at Asmara International Airport on 15 October 2022 as he returned from a visit to Europe. Father Mihretab Stefanos, the parish priest of St Michael’s Church in Segheneity and Abba Gebremariam, the deputy priest in charge of students of the Capuchin Society, were detained on 11 and 12 October 2022 respectively. While the bishop and Father Stefanos were held in an unknown location, Abba Gebremariam was detained in a prison north of the Eritrean capital Asmara.

In May 2002 Eritrea closed all churches not affiliated with the Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran or Orthodox Christian traditions, and began a campaign of arrests of adherents of non-sanctioned churches that continues to this day.

Among those arrested are seven church leaders who have been detained arbitrarily for at least 18 years, reportedly in an Investigation Centre in Asmara. Rev Haile Naizge, chair of the Full Gospel Church, and Dr Kuflu Gebremeskel, chair of the Eritrean Evangelical Alliance, have been detained since May 2004. Rev Million Gebreselassie, pastor of the Rhema Evangelical Church and an anaesthetist at Massawa Hospital, has been held since June 2004. Rev Kidane Woldu, a senior pastor of the Muluwengel (Full Gospel) Church, has been held since March 2005.

CSW says that the Eritrean Orthodox Church has also experienced severe repression despite being sanctioned by the government. Orthodox priests Dr Futsum Gebrenegus, at the time Eritrea's only psychiatrist, Dr Tekleab Menghisteab, a highly respected physician, and Rev Gebremedhin Gebregiorgis, have been detained since November 2004.

Elizabeth Chyrum, Director of HRCE said: “The arrest and subsequent release of the Catholic clergy provide a clear illustration, if one is needed, that permitted religious communities also experience repression. While CSW and HRCE welcome these releases, we also recall that thousands of prisoners of conscience remain detained without charge or trial, some of whom have been held in shipping containers and makeshift, overcrowded and unsanitary facilities for over two decades. We therefore urge the Eritrean government to go much further, by releasing everyone who has been subjected to lengthy and unjust arbitrary detention.”

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