Eritrean Christian Charity Calls for Release of Prisoners of Conscience Amidst Fear of COVID19 Outbreak in the Country
Eritrean human rights charity, Release Eritrea, calls on the government of Eritrea to release all prisoners of conscience including those incarcerated for their faith in various prisons throughout the country, amidst fear of COVID19 outbreak. The charity has received information regarding the harrowing condition in detention centres where hundreds of people languish after they were detained because of their religious belief. Prisoners are held in facilities that are not fit for human beings including shipment containers and make shift camps in deserted deserts, there is no medical care or basic toilets provided, many die of treatable illnesses.
The government of Eritrea has routinely harasses, imprisoned and regularly abused thousands of Eritrean Christians from minority church groups in the country on the count of their faith since the country’s independence. The situation was institutionalised when the regime outlawed the churches and begun to arrest followers enmas in May 2002, in the years that followed thousands have faced extreme persecution and many of them left the country at every opportunity they got, becoming victims of human trafficking and precarious journeys out of the country.
Persecution is on-going and infact 2019 saw the worst records of arrests with hundreds being incarcerated in the space of the few months after Eritrea struck a peace deal with Ethiopia.
Information received by the Charity shows that, in just three months in 2019, 239 people were detained in 4 prison camps across the country. One prison in Mai-Temenay, on the outskirts of Asmara received 127 prisoners, while in Keren there were 43 arrests in the same period. Another prison in Asmara, in an area known as Godaif had 40 prisoners and a prison in Dkemhare had 24.
Currently it is estimated that there are some 600 prisoners in various prison including the ones mentioned above as well as the following across the country Mai –sirwa prison holds the largest numbers comprising of 72 women and 85 men, followed by the prison island in Dahlak where there is a desert camp with 15 female and 27 male prisoners. Hashferay camp has 8 women and 12 men and Adi Abeyto near the Capital holds 3 women and 12 men prisoners. Keren, Ala and Medefera have a handful male prisoners (less than five each) and Metkel Abyet has 3 female prisoners. Inside Asmara there are long term- prisoners totalling just over 20 some of them have been in prison since 2004. In addition it is estimated there are a further 200 across various military contingents.
Over the years many have died due to illnesses, malnutrition and torture; given that these people have never been charged with crime, Release Eritrea calls for their immediate and unconditional release, pertinently at this time when their living conditions and malnutrition and various untreated illnesses could put them in unimaginable danger in the event of a COVID19 outbreak in the county.
Rev. Dr Berhane Asmelash director of Release Eritrea said ‘ I have always been concerned regarding the prisoners’ health given the over crowded conditions and severe malnutrition. I have spoken to many who escaped those prisons in refugee camps in Ethiopia and the situation is unimaginably difficult, there is no medical care whatsoever, there is no way anyone would survive a viral outbreak such as COVID19 in that condition. I would like to call for release of all prisoners of conscience. I am personally shaken by the report received by Release Eritrea f on the situation of Christian prisoners; we call for their immediate and unconditional release. Their continued incarceration is illegal and unjust and in the current situation totally inhumane’
Eritrea has last week confirmed the first six cases of COVID19 patients and is currently taking steps to control the spread of the disease. Other countries including neighbouring Ethiopia have taken the unprecedented step of releasing thousands of prisoners fearing the potential implication of COVID19 outbreak.
Release Eritrea is a UK registered human rights charity that advocates for freedom religious worship in Eritrea.