Pregnant women and children were arrested by security forces in a raid on a church in the city of Keren on Sunday 23 June, becoming the latest victims of an ongoing government crackdown on Christians in Eritrea.
Faith Missions Church has been operating in Eritrea for about 60 years, but it is unregistered and therefore more vulnerable to attack.
In Eritrea, since religious registration policies were introduced in 2002, only three Christian denominations are legally permitted – Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Lutheran – as well as Sunni Islam. Non-registered religious groups are considered a threat to the state and can be severely persecuted. This is despite Eritrea being a party to the right to freedom of religion enshrined in article 18 of the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights .
Faith Missions Church is reportedly one of four religious communities still awaiting registration, despite having already submitted the necessary documentation in 2002.
The raid on the church, in which property was also confiscated, is the latest in a catalogue of recent persecution including authorities seizing 21 health facilities in the country belonging to a registered church denomination on 12 June, arresting five ministers of another registered denomination on 13 June after they complained about government interference, and, on 10 May, arresting 141 Christians gathered at a meeting.
The six-month report up to May this year from UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea, Daniela Kravetz, called on the government to release “those imprisoned for practicing their faith”. Eritrea’s human rights record is due to be reviewed at the United Nations Human Rights Council on 2 July.
The report stated, “strengthening respect for freedom of religion and belief” is a “main human rights challenge” in Eritrea, and “leaders of registered religions also face arbitrary arrest and prolonged detention”.
The report added, “Evangelical Christian and Pentecostal communities continue to face serious restrictions to the practice of their faith. Followers of both registered and unregistered groups are arbitrarily arrested and detained for their religious beliefs. Several members of religious groups have recently died in detention.”