ANGELES, December 14 (Compass Direct News) – The government of
Eritrea wrested financial and personnel control away from the
Eritrean Orthodox Church last week, the day after security police
jailed nine staff of a Christian aid agency.
In an ultimatum delivered to the church’s Asmara headquarters on
December 5, the state demanded that all offerings and tithes
collected through the Orthodox Church be deposited directly into a
According to the unilateral order, effective immediately the
monthly salaries of all Orthodox priests are to be paid out from
this government-controlled fund of church income.
In a related policy, the government also announced new limits for
the number of priests to be allowed to serve in each parish
throughout the country.
The order specified that any “extra” priests beyond this quota
who are now serving in any given parish would be required to report
to the Wi’a Military Training Center, to perform their required
The leadership of the Eritrean Orthodox Church has reportedly
accepted the government demands, forwarding formal notice of the new
regulations to every Orthodox parish in the country.
Ignoring church canons, the regime of President Isaias Afwerki
removed the church’s ordained Patriarch Abune Antonios from office
in August 2005 and placed him under house arrest. After installing a
lay administrator, the government then put forward Abune Dioscoros
as Antonios’ unofficial successor.
The Catholic Church of Eritrea reportedly continues to reject
government demands to curtail their staff of priests or send them to
Samaritan’s Purse Staff Arrested
At the same time, Asmara sources have confirmed that 10 days ago
security officials arrested nine truck drivers working for
Samaritan’s Purse, an international aid agency ordered to leave the
country last month.
Eritrean authorities intercepted the men on December 4 as they
were driving toward the Eritrean-Sudanese border, where Samaritan’s
Purse had projects assisting the nomadic Beja tribe.
A U.S.-based evangelical Christian organization, Samaritan’s
Purse is the 11th international aid group expelled from Eritrea this
year. Officials in Asmara insist that these expulsions are simply
protecting the country from the aid dependency rife across Africa.
The detained drivers, most of them known to be evangelical
Christians, remain under arrest in Police Station No. 6 in Asmara.
Gospel Singer Released
Local evangelical Christians report that Gospel singer Helen
Berhane, released in late October after more than two years in jail
for refusing to recant her faith, is recuperating at her home in
No reason was given for Berhane’s release, although she was
transferred into emergency hospital care for several days earlier in
October, shortly after undergoing a new round of beatings.
“She is extremely strong spiritually, and in high spirits,” one
Christian who visited her last month declared. Still in a
wheelchair, Berhane was severely injured in her right leg by
beatings and bruisings inflicted by her captors.
A member of the Kidrane Mehrete Fellowship, Berhane was arrested
on May 13, 2004, shortly after releasing a Christian music album
that proved popular among Eritrean youth. Jailed at the Mai Serwa
Military Camp, she was never charged or put on trial.
“She spent most of her detention in inhuman and degrading
conditions inside a metal shipping container which was used as a
prison cell,” Amnesty International wrote in a November 3 statement
reporting her release. “The authorities reportedly tortured her many
times to make her recant her faith.”
Although Berhane reportedly knew that the world had heard about
her plight and that Christians were praying for her, local
Christians told Compass that they assumed she had been ordered not
to talk about her imprisonment after her release.
“Of course we’ve had no contact with her, because that’s
extremely risky for somebody who’s just released from prison,” Horn
of Africa researcher Dr. Martin Hill of Amnesty International told
the British Broadcasting Corporation on November 4.
In an interview with Agence France-Presse the previous day,
Eritrean Foreign Minister Ali Abdu denied any knowledge of Berhane’s
Instead, he criticized Amnesty International for its massive
campaign on her behalf, saying, “Who is accountable for them, and
who has given them the right to be the global police of this world?”
Abdu said. “I am not saying it is a lie . . . but we do not even
give them recognition,” the minister said.
Designated by the U.S. State Department as one of the worst
violators of religious freedom in the world, the Eritrean government
flatly denies the allegations.
In ongoing crackdowns since May 2002, Eritrea has banned all
independent religious groups not under the umbrella of the
government-sanctioned Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran or Muslim faiths.
Serious restrictions against these four recognized religions have
also escalated in the past 18 months.
More than 2,000 Eritrean citizens are known to be jailed solely
for their religious beliefs, some for several years. Most are
routinely subjected to torture and severe pressure to either recant
or remain in prison.