ASMARA, Eritrea (ABP) — A sliver of hope widened a bit for Eritrean Christians in early April as the government officially recognized another Protestant group after years of persecution.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is the fourth Christian denomination to gain governmental recognition. The others are Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran groups. Eritrea is a country of 4.5 million people, many of them Muslims and Coptic Christians, wedged between Sudan and Ethiopia on the Red Sea.
According to a news story from Release Eritrea, a non-governmental human-rights organization, the head of the Eritrean delegation to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights said the registration process is complete and the Seventh-day Adventists will be operational as soon as the bureaucratic processes are finished.
“Naturally I am delighted that the government has now indicated its willingness to recognize and register minority faiths in Eritrea,” said Berhane Asmelash, director of Release Eritrea. “However, I am concerned about the very notion that churches which have had recognition previously are required to reregister – a requirement that does not seem to be applicable to the four main religious groups enjoying recognition.”
The move comes as Christians in unrecognized churches reportedly have faced harassment, mistreatment and indefinite detention by the Eritrean government since 2002, when officials ordered the closure of all Christian churches that were not Orthodox, Roman Catholic or Evangelical Lutheran.
Eritrean leaders have said other churches can apply for recognition, but the majority of congregations that have been able to meet stringent guidelines still are awaiting accreditation.
At least 400 believers are thought to be imprisoned because of their faith, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a human-rights group specializing in religious freedom. More than 240 Christians – many of whom remain in custody – have been arrested since the beginning of this year. Some leaders of recognized churches also have been detained recently.
A government official denied the charges of persecution and imprisonment.
The Baptist General Convention of Texas has established a committee to address persecution in Eritrea and help Christians there. The committee includes Eritrean Christians living in Texas.