This week a group of Eritreans presented the appalling abuses of religious freedoms before British Parliament.
They were providing their testimony before the All Party Parliamentary Group on Eritrea, chaired by Brendan O’Hara MP, as well as other All Party Parliamentary Groups commitmented to International Freedom of Religion or Belief and on the Prevention of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity.
The speakers included Helen Berhane, who was terribly persecuted for being an Evangelical Christian. [More on her views below]
Their church is not recognised by the Eritrean government. But even religions which are officially recognised have suffered abuse.
The meeting heard from Abdurahman Sayed Bohashem, speaking on the situation of Eritrea’s Muslim community and (via Zoom) by Father Athanasius Habtu Ghebre-Ab, PhD, Director of External Relations, The Canonical Diaspora Diocese of the Eritrean Orthodox Church (North America, Europe and the Middle East) speaking on the situation of the Orthodox Church.
Their statements were supported by Dr Khataza Gondwe from Christian Solidarity Worldwide reading remarks by Elsa Chyrum, Director, Human Rights Concern-Eritrea, who gave an overview of Eritrea’s human rights crisis.
The Eritrean Embassy sent a representative to the event, who was given to present his views to the meeting, as were other supporters of the Eritrean government. The Eritrean embassy later sent a letter to the All Party Parliamentary Group. [see below]
The persecution of Helen Berhane
Helen Berhane gave some of the most moving testimony, since she spoke of her own arrest and imprisonment for 32 months, for evangelizing and releasing religious music. During that time she was locked in a shipping container: freezing at night and blisteringly hot during the day. Because the government could not break her spirit, they then put her in a container with a deranged woman, who screamed constantly and attacked her.
She was in London to attend the Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) attracted about 700 delegates from around the world to London for two days of presentations, discussions, and exhibitions. The conference was organised by the British Government.
Helen said it had been a valuable opportunity to present the situation of Eritrea to a wider audience, but speaking to Eritrean Hub she explained that she was concerned that many Eritreans in the diaspora were so silent. “The situation is horrible,” Helen said. “But Eritreans are not pushing for action on these abuses. Why not?”
Helen said she had visited the refugee camps for Eritreans in Tigray before the war, and spoken to the refugees afterwards. “They told me how they were attacked by the Eritrean army. I Tweet about this and continue to speak out,” she explained. “But we need consistent pressure if we are going to get change. Eritreans must focus on our people: they are dying!”
Eritreans trained in advocacy
The discussion about Eritrea’s human rights coincided with a visit to Parliament by a group of Eritreans, for training in how to get their views across to their Members of Parliament.
They heard from the UK Parliament’s own training team, who explained how the system worked and what was most likely to gain the attention of their MPs.
This was underlined by Lord David Alton, a Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Eritrea, and a passionate advocate for human rights in Eritrea and around the world.
The Eritreans had the opportunity to ask their MPs to come and meet them in the lobby of Parliament and some did. With this experience it will be for them to take the lessons back to their communities across the UK to make the situation in Eritrea better known.
Eritrean Embassy responds to the All Party Parliamentary Group hearing on religious persecution