By Press Release Opendoors, Open Doors – November 2013
Last week we reported the death of Wehazit Berhane Debesai who succumbed to pneumonia in an Eritrean prison. Wehazit, an Eritrean Christian, was denied medical attention because she refused to renounce her Christian beliefs. In a separate event around the time of her death, approximately 70 Christians were arrested at a prayer gathering, bringing the number of Christians taken into custody this year to nearly 300.
These reports follow the early October deaths of around 380 mostly Eritrean and Somali migrants attempting to flee to Europe in ill-equipped vessels, crossing the Mediterranean from Libya.
The United Nations’ special rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea, Sheila Keetharuth, recently told the General Assembly that human rights abuses in Eritrea are causing “countless Eritreans to desert from their positions and flee the country.” Eritreans, according to UN figures, are second only to Syria in the number of those who have fled to Italy by sea as of Sept. 30. “It demonstrates the desperation of those who decide to flee, despite the extreme dangers along escape routes and an unknown future,” said Keetharuth.
UN figures claim that between 2,000 and 3,000 people are fleeing Eritrea every month despite a “shoot-to-kill policy” for those who attempt to leave. More than 300,000 Eritreans are believed to have fled the country in the past decade.
Keetharuth said the most serious violations include a lack of freedom of expression, assembly, religious belief and movement, as well as extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, extended incommunicado detention, torture and indefinite national service. Eritrea’s ambassador to the UN, Arya Desta, rejected these claims, as a “tool of political pressure” for enforcing “unfair and unjust” sanctions. He also denied the implementation of a shoot-to-kill policy.
A representative of Open Doors said that many Christian men and women are being held in underground dungeons, metal shipping containers and military detention centers. “They face exposure, hard labor and insufficient food, water and hygiene. They are regularly denied medical treatment for malaria and pneumonia contracted while in prison or diseases like diabetes, hypertension or cancer that they may have arrived with,” said the representative.
A number of rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have condemned Eritrea’s human rights record. Amnesty International claims that Eritrea’s prisons are filled with “thousands of political prisoners, locked up without ever being charged with a crime, many of whom are never heard from again”.
The organization claims that at least 10,000 political prisoners have been imprisoned since 1993, and many die in detention as a result of “torture, appalling conditions or suicide”.
Father, the effects of sin in this world is evident in appalling ways in Eritrea. Christians suffer along with political prisoners in unthinkable conditions and we lift them up to Your care today. We are helpless, but You are powerful to act. Comfort them, Lord. Provide for them the medical help they need. Raise up a mighty voice to speak out on their behalf before the watching world. Keep them from despair and bitterness and strengthen them to be a powerful testimony of Your presence within them to the other prisoners. May Your gospel bring about repentance and saving faith to a multitude within the prison walls. In the name of Jesus who suffered and died that we might live and tell of His might, Amen.