In Asmara, 50 evangelical students given harsh military punishment.
LOS ANGELES, May 19 (Compass Direct) – Two days after an evangelical Christian mother was arrested from her home and jailed by Eritrean police, her 6-month-old son has died on his sickbed in Nefasit, 10 miles east of Asmara.
Ghenet Gebremariam was arrested on May 8 with two other Protestant women, all members of Nefasit’s banned Full Gospel Church. They were detained on accusations of “actively witnessing about Christ” to the inhabitants of their town, local Christians confirmed to Compass today. All three were mothers forced to leave young children behind in their homes.
Two days later, Gebremariam’s baby, Hazaiel Daniel, died of unknown causes. When news of the baby’s death reached security police in Nefasit, they agreed to release his mother on bail.
The other two mothers, Meslale Abraham and Alganshe Tsagay, remain in police custody, still separated from their children.
Police gave no reason for the arrest of the three women, apart from their involvement in one of Eritrea’s outlawed Protestant churches.
Since May of 2002, the Eritrean government has banned all Christian churches independent of the Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran communities.
Any violators caught worshipping or practicing their faith outside the three government-sanctioned churches are jailed for weeks, months or even years. Hundreds have been subjected to severe physical mistreatment over the past four years in an attempt to force them to recant their Protestant beliefs.
Christian Students Punished
In a separate crackdown two weeks ago, 50 evangelical Christian students were put under harsh military punishment at Mai Nefhee Educational Institution, a military service center in Asmara.
According to some of the students’ relatives, the 33 young women and 17 men were reported to the authorities during the first week of May to be “evangelical believers.” Their discovery was attributed to an intensive campaign mounted by the Defense Ministry and its military personnel to identify all students at the institution who were involved in “illegal” Protestant activities.
The pretext for punishing the students, however, was their alleged refusal to participate in a cultural show for the Independence Day celebrations slated for May 25, sources said.
“All these students are under military punishment during their exam time,” a source told Compass, “on the occasion that our nation is preparing to celebrate its Independence Day.”
Meanwhile, two Protestant businessmen jailed last December have been released from prison, but only after posting stiff bail payments, Asmara sources confirmed.
Solomon Mengesteab, a businessman from the Full Gospel Church, and a photoshop owner from the Rema Church identified only as Mr. Yosief, were issued harsh warnings and ordered to pay a whopping 150,000 Nakfa (US$10,000) bail to secure their release. The annual per capita income in Eritrea, one of the world’s poorest countries, is less than $300.
The men had been arrested in a rash of pre-Christmas raids targeting known evangelical businessmen and women for their participation in and financial support of outlawed churches.
But Yosief’s wife, along with a dozen or more employees of their Photo Asier shop, remains in prison.
Nearly 1,800 Christians, including 28 pastors and priests from both Protestant and Orthodox churches, are now under arrest in police stations, military camps and jails all across Eritrea because of their religious beliefs.
An additional 70 Muslims have been jailed for the past two years for opposing the government’s appointment of the chief mufti.
None have been brought to court on formal charges.
Copyright 2006 Compass Direct