More than thirty Christians, members of the Pentecostal Churches in Eritrea were arrested by security forces in recent days, Fides News Agency reported June 3, 2019. The police stopped them while they were gathered in prayer in three different places in the capital Asmara.
On paper, the Eritrean government recognizes religious freedom. In reality, the authorities recognize only four religions: Orthodox Christianity, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Eritrea (which represent 50 percent of the population) and Sunni Islam (48 percent of the population). The other religious groups are considered “illegal” because the government claims they are instruments of foreign governments.
Police officers carry out continuous raids in private homes where devotees of unrecognized religions, especially Pentecostal Christians, meet for community prayer. They are released only if they disavow their faith.
The authorities in Asmara have a rigid attitude even with permitted confessions. The Orthodox Church itself suffered the strong interference of the authorities. In 2007, Patriarch Antonios, who criticized President Isayas Afeworki, was deposed by the government in 2007 and has been under house arrest since then. In his place, the government imposed abuna Dioskoros. The latter died in 2015 leaving the seat vacant.
The Catholic Church lives in a difficult condition. The authorities, in fact, demand the full control of all organizations of religious origin, such as private schools, medical clinics, and orphanages, institutions that give undeniable support to the Eritrean population (held in a grip of poverty). A sector, the social one, in which the Catholic Church is very strong and in which it must undergo continuous controls. Even Islamic institutions are under pressure. In 2017, the proposed closure of an Islamic school sparked a harsh protest. The students took to the streets to protest and the demonstrations were harshly repressed by the police.
In addition to religious persecution, Eritrea, according to NGOs for the defense of human rights such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, is a state that systematically practices the repression of opposition political and social groups and the society remains highly militarized.