Eritrea arrests and imprisons Jehovah’s Witnesses and others without trial or formal charges. Witness men and women, including children and the elderly, are imprisoned for religious activity or for undisclosed reasons. Young men are imprisoned for conscientiously objecting to military service.
When Eritrea became an independent country in 1993, Jehovah’s Witnesses lost their fundamental freedoms. President Afewerki revoked their citizenship by Presidential Decree dated October 25, 1994, because the Witnesses did not vote in the 1993 independence referendum and they conscientiously object to military service. Since then, Eritrean security forces have imprisoned, tortured, and harassed Jehovah’s Witnesses in an effort to force them to recant their faith.
Indefinite Prison Sentences Under Harsh Conditions
Three men, Paulos Eyasu, Isaac Mogos, and Negede Teklemariam, have been in prison for conscientious objection to military service since September 24, 1994. Ten other men have been in prison for more than ten years.
Some Witness prisoners have been held in metal shipping containers, while others were held in stone or metal buildings half buried in the ground. One prisoner, Misghina Gebretinsae, aged 62, died in July 2011 as a result of the extreme heat he experienced in a punishment area described as the “underground” in the Meitir Prison Camp. Yohannes Haile, aged 68, died on August 16, 2012, after almost four years of imprisonment under similar conditions in the Meitir Camp.
In July 2017, all the Witnesses detained in the Meitir Camp were transferred to the Mai Serwa Prison outside of Asmara, where the conditions are less harsh. On November 30, 2017, all 13 Witnesses detained in the Sawa Camp, including Paulos Eyasu, Isaac Mogos, and Negede Teklemariam, were also transferred to the Mai Serwa Prison.
Recent Arrests and Releases
On April 5, 2016, Saron Gebru began serving a six-month prison term after being convicted for attending the 2014 Memorial of Christ’s death; she was released on October 5, 2016.
In April 2016, Asfaha Haile was released from prison.
On April 9, 2016, Samuol Dawit was imprisoned for her conscientious objection to military service.
On March 30, 2017, Hadas Dawit attempted to provide bail for her sister, Samuol, but was also arrested, and they are both being held in the Mai Serwa Prison.
On April 26, 2017, Nehemiah Hagos was released from prison.
In September 2017, two young male Witnesses were arrested and are being held in a police station in Asmara.
December 12, 2017
Total of 55 Witnesses imprisoned.
July 25, 2014
Most of those arrested on April 14 are released, but 20 of those arrested on April 27 are yet detained; total of 73 Witnesses imprisoned.
April 27, 2014
Thirty-one Witnesses arrested during a Bible study meeting.
April 14, 2014
More than 90 Witnesses arrested during the annual observance of the Memorial of Christ’s death.
Total of 52 Witnesses imprisoned under harsh conditions.
August 16, 2012
Death of Yohannes Haile, aged 68, while imprisoned under extreme conditions.
Death of Misghina Gebretinsae, aged 62, while imprisoned under extreme conditions.
June 28, 2009
Authorities raid a Witness home during a religious service and arrest all 23 Witnesses present, ages 2 to 80. The total of Witnesses imprisoned rises to 69.
April 28, 2009
Authorities transfer all but one of Jehovah’s Witnesses jailed in police stations to the Meitir Prison Camp.
July 8, 2008
Authorities begin raids of homes and places of work to arrest 24 Witnesses, most of them breadwinners of their families.
Government closes down all religious groups not operating under the four government-approved faiths.
October 25, 1994
Presidential decree stripping Jehovah’s Witnesses of citizenship and basic civil rights.
September 24, 1994
Paulos Eyasu, Isaac Mogos, and Negede Teklemariam imprisoned without charge or trial and currently still in prison.
First communities of Jehovah’s Witnesses are established in Eritrea.