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Religious Liberty in Africa (Part 2 of 3)

7/21/2006 - 5:45 AM PST

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Report Published by Aid to the Church in Need

ROME, JULY 21, 2006 (Zenit) - Aid to the Church in Need released a report on religious freedom around the world.

Part 1 published on Catholic Online.

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Religious Liberty in Africa

Eritrea

Following a decree that imposed registration for all religious groups, since 2002 in Eritrea only the Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, the Evangelical church affiliated to the World Lutheran Federation and Islam enjoy official acknowledgement by the state. All other organizations are effectively obliged to cease all their activities or to practice them in secret, constantly threatened by repression.

Four other groups -- the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Seventh Day Adventist Church, the Church of the Mission of Faith and the Baha'i -- although they have requested registration, are still waiting for approval. In particular, there is currently a presidential decree according to which Jehovah's Witnesses "have renounced their nationality," refusing to vote in the elections and refusing compulsory military service.

Relations between the Catholic Church and the Marxist government are tense due to the latent conflict with Ethiopia that has caused over 70 thousand victims, leaving the country in a state of social and economic destruction as well as overcome by anarchy.

In spite of the cease-fire declared in June 2000, citizens are called up for long periods of military service, something that the bishop of Asmara, Bishop Abune Menghesteab Tesfamariam, considers the cause of divisions within families due to fathers being away from home, an element causing difficult economic and social situations.

Furthermore, "the Christians who are at the front cannot attend Mass, especially the young, and if they are kept away for a long time may risk losing their faith," he said.

In what appears to be state interference in the life of the majority religious community, on August 7, the Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Abuna Antonios, was dismissed from the Synod, only 17 months after being appointed and placed under house arrest.

Six different accusations may have been among the reasons that have resulted in this decision, such as not having excommunicated 3,000 members of Medhane Alem's Christian Orthodox community. In reality, at the basis of this dismissal were the accusations Abuna Antonios launched at the government and his request for the releasing of Christian prisoners of conscience. Consequently, the Patriarch was denied the faculty to bless his community which has also suffered persecutions. A number of priests who supported Abuna Antonios were in fact suspended from their appointments and deprived of their salaries.

The government believes that new religious movements of Protestant origin are a danger and according to the BBC correspondent, Jonah Fisher, expelled from Asmara in September 2004. "It seems to fear that people believing that they owe their loyalty to God might prove to be unpatriotic to the extent of not obeying conditions imposed by the state."

This attitude explains the numerous and serious episodes of persecution against evangelical sects, often implemented using the excuse of reticence to serve in the army. On November 3, the Compass news agency estimated that there were 1,778 people imprisoned due to their religious beliefs.

This number, doubled over a six month period, bears witness to a worrying escalation of the government's repressive activities. According to the American State Department's Report on Freedom of Worship there are 22 Jehovah's Witnesses currently in prison with no charges brought against them and eight of them are said to have been held in the Mai-Sewa military camp since June 2004; nine are thought to be accused of refusing to serve in the armed forces. A number of Jehovah's Witnesses were also arrested during the raid on May 28 against the Kale Hiwot for refusing to recant their faith.

Ethiopia

In a message sent to "Aiuto alla Chiesa che Soffre" in the month of December, Father Melaku Tafesse Amente said that "Ethiopia's Christian heritage is threatened by Muslims who have massively extended their influence over the country's culture and economy."

He explained that Islamic movements in the Middle East send money to subsidize the religious expansion addressed at controlling social life's main structures such as hospitals, school and the large commercial distribution networks.

Also according to Monsignor Lorenzo Ceresoli, the Apostolic Vicar of Awasa, in Southern Ethiopia, the objective of "consolidating the Church in an environment with a significant Islamic presence, but in which traditional religions are also present, if ...

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