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Jehovah’s Witnesses in Eritrea Are Being Imprisoned and Abused

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At least 53 Jehovah’s Witnesses are currently languishing in prison in Eritrea—an African country known for repressing Christians—and some have died in prison due to poor treatment, according to a report on religious freedom released this week by the State Department.

Eritrea officially recognizes four religions: the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Eritrean Catholic Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church and Islam. Nevertheless, even members of the sanctioned Christian groups face frequent repression, and fringe groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses face constant persecution and discrimination. The authoritarian government of Isaias Afwerki, which came to power in 1991 when Eritrea first gained independence, stripped the Jehovah’s Witnesses of their citizenship in 1994 because they object to participating in military service. Since then, many members of the group have been imprisoned or abused for practicing their religion or refusing to join the military.

“In February several NGOs [non-government organizations] reported Tsehaye Tesfamariam, a Jehovah’s Witness arrested in 2009 and imprisoned at the Me’eter Prison Camp until 2015, died in November 2016 from an illness contracted in prison that authorities reportedly refused to treat,” the State Department report said.

“Most places of worship unaffiliated with the four registered religious groups remained closed, but many of those buildings were protected and undamaged,” the report noted. “Jehovah’s Witnesses, who were stripped of citizenship in 1994 due to their refusal to vote in the independence referendum, were largely unable to obtain official identification documents.”

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