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 Eyassu, Isaac Mogos, and Negede Teklemariam, have been in prison for conscientious objection to military service since September 24, 1994. Nine other men have been in prison for more than ten years.
Some Witness prisoners are held in metal shipping containers, while others are in stone or metal buildings half buried in the ground. One prisoner, Misghina Gebretinsae, aged 62, died in July 2011 because of extreme heat while 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 in the Meitir Camp under similar conditions. Since then, the Meitir Camp has released a few Witness prisoners after they experienced severe health issues.
On October 25, 2015, two female Jehovah’s Witnesses were arrested while engaged in religious activity. One of the women, a foreigner who was visiting relatives in Eritrea, was released after a week in custody. The other woman, a 53-year-old Eritrean, remains in jail.
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 from prison on October 5, 2016.
December 16, 2016
Total of 53 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 are the 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 Eyassu, 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.