Jehovah’s Witnesses experience their most intense persecution in Eritrea. The Eritrean government has consistently imprisoned, tortured, and harassed Jehovah’s Witnesses since it became an independent country in 1993. A presidential decree issued on October 25, 1994, declared that the Witnesses in Eritrea “have revoked their Eritrean citizenship” by refusing to participate in political activities or enlist in the military. Consequently, the government has stripped the Witnesses of their basic civil rights.
Years of persecution and hardship have prompted many Witnesses to flee the country. Those who remain are under constant threat of mistreatment and must exercise extreme caution in carrying out any religious activity. Eritrean authorities have arrested and imprisoned many Witnesses over the years—some for their conscientious objection to military service and others for attending religious meetings, for talking to others about the Bible, or for undisclosed reasons. Prisoners include elderly men, women and, at times, even children. Three male Witnesses have been in prison for over 20 years. None have been formally charged or given a trial and sentenced.
The persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Eritrea has received international attention. Government officials from Africa, Europe, and the United States have raised the issue with Eritrean officials, but the government has done little to provide relief. The Witnesses have also made numerous requests to Eritrean officials in Asmara to open a dialogue to resolve the problems, but the government refuses to meet with them.