By BosNewsLife Africa Service
ASMARA/LONDON (BosNewsLife)– Supporters of five religious rights groups have demonstrated outside the Eritrean embassy in London against “human rights violations” in Eritrea where up to 3,000 Christians remain detained without charges, organizers said Friday, May 29.
Dozens of supporters of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Release Eritrea (RE), Church in Chains (Ireland), Open Doors and Release International took part in the demonstration, which culminated in the presentation of a letter calling for the release of all prisoners.
The protest was briefly marred when a male government supporter tried to assault a photographer, while his female counterpart harassed some of the demonstrators and was moved on by police, CSW said. Others filmed participants from the Embassy’s windows, according to witnesses.
“It is a privilege to stand here today in solidarity with the persecuted Christians of Eritrea,” said demonstrator David Turner, national coordinator of the Church in Chains group. “Their bravery and perseverance is inspiring and we pray and look forward to the day when the doors of the prisons and shipping containers where they are being held are opened wide and they can walk out.”
During the protest, news emerged from Eritrea that Abune Antonios, the ordained patriarch of the Orthodox Church, had been briefly released from stringent house arrest for medical treatment, following complications arising from high blood pressure and severe diabetes, rights activists said. Patriarch Antonios has been detained in a secret location since the state removed him from the church leadership in 2006.
Thursday’s protest marked the end of a series of solidarity actions that began on May 23 when CSW, the Evangelical Alliance (EA) and RE held a prayer event in the British town of Birmingham. Some 90 people attended, including a sizeable number of Eritrean refugees who “suffered at the hands of the Eritrea’s notoriously repressive regime,” CSW added in a statement.
“Sadly, the situation over the last 18 years since independence has worsened for Eritreans as a whole. Despite recent government claims of prosperity and full employment, there are clear and increasing indications that Eritreans continue to suffer terribly, both in and out of prison,” CSW National Director, Stuart Windsor said.
Berhane Asmelash, Director of advocacy group Release Eritrea said he was “touched by the solidarity of our brothers and sisters from across the UK and Ireland.” However he urged Christians to “continue to pray and advocate on behalf of the persecuted church in Eritrea and all Eritreans.”
Eritrea’s government has denied wrongdoing. Yet, rights groups have described Eritrea’s leadership as “the most repressive regime in Africa” saying thousands of prisoners are detained arbitrarily and indefinitely in inadequate facilities where “conditions are life threatening and torture is rife.”
Meetings of more than seven require official permission, and military service is often indefinite, with conscripts being used as forced labour in government development projects, said CSW, which has close contacts with reportedly persecuted Christians. “There is looming famine, 70 percent of the population is malnourished, yet the government manipulates the distribution of food aid to strengthen its control of society.”
It said the Eritrean government is also implicated in several crises in the horn of Africa. In an unprecedented move, the African Union has urged the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions on Eritrea for allegedly fueling violence in Somalia by arming and bankrolling the radical al Shabab insurgents.