Security forces jailed, beat, and threatened 170 Protestant Christians in a harsh crackdown.

In five incidents in four cities, Eritrean security police barged into worship services and even a wedding ceremony. They jailed men, women, and children for practicing what government officials called "a new religion." Authorities held all the arrested people incommunicado and eventually released them on bail.

Then on April 15 security police severely beat members of an Orthodox renewal group, who had to be hospitalized, and the next day they detained 11 members of the Protestant Mesert Christos Church in Asmara.

The Eritrean government recognizes only four "official" religious affiliations: Orthodox Christian (40 percent); Muslim (50 percent); Catholic (5 percent); and Evangelical Christian, a Protestant church that Swedish Lutheran missionaries started (2 percent).

The government closed 12 Pentecostal and charismatic churches last May. Though these churches have more than 20,000 members and have filed the required registration papers, officials have yet to recognize them.

The jailed Protestants were detained in humiliating conditions from 3 to 15 days.

A previous incident occurred on March 23 in the nation's capital, Asmara. Forty members of Philadelphia Church were meeting for choir practice when 15 police officers armed with machine guns, pistols, and long sticks burst in to arrest them.

Related Elsewhere

The State Department's International Religious Freedom Report 2002 for Eritrea says, "The Constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, the Government restricted this right in the case of Jehovah's Witnesses and instituted new restrictions on other religious groups that do not have a long history in the country."

Previous related stories include:

Eritrean Government Closes Churches | All Christian houses of worship are ordered shut without official explanation. (July 18, 2002)

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