(MNN) — The Eritrean government calls the reports of mass Christian detentions "hyperbole." A senior government
official categorically denies religious repression and suggests the reports are
exaggerated. The government continues to
support its statement issued in May 2003 that "no groups or persons are
persecuted in Eritrea
for their beliefs or religion."
Voice of the Martyrs Canada's Glenn Penner disagrees. Sweeping the evidence reported by
international human rights Non-Governmental Organizations and local church
sources under the carpet won't change the fact that over 2,000 Christians are
detained without charge or trial in Eritrea.
"The Eritrean government is still very much living in
the past," says Penner. "They
haven't come to grips with the reality of the technological age in which news
of arrests does get out of countries very rapidly. I think they really do believe that if they
simply say it long enough, people will actually believe them."
Compass Direct says prisoners include dozens of pastors and
priests incarcerated in jails, police stations and military camps in 14
different cities and towns, some of them for more than three years.
Eritrean security forces began a harsh crackdown against the
country's evangelical Protestant community five years ago, outlawing all
churches not under the umbrella of the Orthodox, Catholic or Lutheran
Penner says while they can't engage in open evangelistic
work in Eritrea, they can send a shortwave radio Bible study broadcast into
some of the military camps where Christians reside.
He notes that the government seems to be playing semantics
games over the persecution. "They
don't deny that there are Christians detained, but they call them 'members of
new sects' who are assembling illegally. So they're saying, 'We're not
persecuting people because they're Christians; we're detaining people because
Pray that the government will stop the campaign against
evangelicals and will allow freedom of religion for all.