35 Eritrean Christians released after peace deal with Ethiopia
Eritrean Christians have applauded the release of 35 Christian prisoners from Eritrean prisons as a result of the signing of the peace deal with Ethiopia though hundreds of Christians still remain in various prisons in the country.
Rev. Mussie Zerai, an Eritrea Roman Catholic priest who runs a hotline for distressed Eritrean migrants as they flee to Europe, said “This peace agreement is a gift from God,” pointing out that “Peace comes with freedom, rights, development, justice and democracy.”
“We see hope. With the agreement, we hope Eritrea will follow the steps of Ethiopia and release more of its prisoners.” Rev. Abraham Hailu, an Ethiopian Roman Catholic priest said.
The Eritrean government had particularly targeted and incarcerated Christians, putting them in appalling conditions in prisons during its war with Ethiopia.
Religious groups and Church leaders have suffered humiliation in small shipping container prisons without food and water and were denied medical attention, activists have said.
In 2002 the government enacted a law recognizing only Orthodox Christian, Evangelical Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches, and only Sunni Muslims. Evangelical and Pentecostal churches have been seen as security threats accused of aggressive evangelistic tactics which the government said will cause social crisis.
A report by Release Eritrea said more than 10 prisons are holding hundreds of prisoners and many have been detained from a few months to 20 years. Abune Antonios, 80, a Patriarch of Eritrea Orthodox Church, has been one of the Church leaders under house arrest since 2007 for criticising the government’s interference with the church. “We call for them all to be released,” Berhane Asmelash, Director of Release Eritrea, said in a statement.
The Ethiopian-Eritrean war has killed almost a million people between May 1998 to June 2000.
“We’ve been asking for peace and reconciliation in Africa,” Bishop Franzelli said. “There’s a lot to be done.”
Cardinal Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, Archbishop of Addis Ababa, has described the peace agreement as “God’s answer to our prayers.”
“It is also a sign of hope and encouragement to us,” Bishop Franzelli said, “not only to congratulate the leaders who had the courage to stop fighting and start talking, but it also shows us the way to go.”
He said peace talks between Ethiopia and Eritrea represent “the local initiative of African leaders, who, if they want and if their minds are enlightened enough, can find ways” for peace.
Bishop Franzelli said Africa can be a sign for the world. “Africa is not only on the receiving end. Africa can give a lot to the rest of the world.
Hassan John is West Africa Editor, GCN and Priest of the Anglican Diocese of Jos