Joint petition containing more than 100,000 signatures highlights plight of jailed Christians in Eritrea


110,000 people have signed a petition calling on the Eritrean authorities to free Christians imprisoned for their faith. Around 1800 Christians have been jailed without trial in Eritrea as a result of their religious affiliations. Many face severe mistreatment for refusing to sign statements denouncing their faith. Reports indicate that some Christians have been sentenced to hard labour or held in underground cells in total darkness for days. Others have been held in solitary confinement in metal shipping containers. In May 2002 the Government ordered the immediate closure of all churches other than those affiliated with the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Lutheran denominations, rendering all other Christian activity illegal. Those who continue practising their faith, even in the privacy of their own homes, face persecution and imprisonment. The permitted churches are also subject to state interference, with the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church being illegally removed from post and placed under house arrest earlier this year. Eritrean Christians who fled to neighbouring Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan have described being beaten and tortured. Some refugees were forced to leave their families behind and fear reprisals will be taken out against them. Many who fled to the United Kingdom are reluctant to speak openly of the lack of freedom in Eritrea for the same reason. Despite increasing reports of persecution and imprisonment since 2002, the Eritrean government has claimed 'no groups or persons are persecuted in Eritrea for their beliefs or religion'. The petition was handed in at the Eritrean Embassy in London yesterday by representatives from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Release International and Open Doors. CSW's National Director, Stuart Windsor, says: "The number of signatories on this petition highlights the strength of feeling in the UK that these abuses of religious liberty and human rights in Eritrea must stop. We are urging the Eritrean Ambassador to take our message back to his government and put an end to the imprisonment and suffering of so many."

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