By BosNewsLife News Center
LONDON/ASMARA (BosNewsLife) -- Three major advocacy groups have given the Eritrean Embassy in London a petition signed by over 100,000 people demanding the release of Christians jailed for their faith, organizers said Wednesday, July 19.
The petition was handed over by officials from Open Doors, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) and Release International, BosNewsLife learned. The three organizations, who say they serve persecuted Christians around the world, wanted to "demonstrate the strength of concern of Christians in the United Kingdom," Open Doors said.
Up to 2,000 Christians are believed to be imprisoned in Eritrea. Some have been locked away in camps or metal shipping containers in the searing heat of the desert, investigators and other sources said.
At least around 1,800 Christians have been locked away by the military government in Eritrea which Open Doors said "mistakenly associates Evangelical Christianity with political dissent."
The group added that 109,653 people have signed the petition calling on Eritrea to set them free, and of these, 73,218 signatures were obtained from Open Doors supporters.
Eritrea's government has denied human rights abuses saying that no groups or persons are persecuted in the country for their beliefs or religion.
President Isaias Afworki has been quoted as saying that several religious groups have been "duped by foreigners" who sought to "distract from the unity of the Eritrean people and distort the true meaning of religion." Critics say the government's version of religion often leads to tensions with especially Christians who actively express their faith in Christ.
"The fact that the Eritrean government denies the existence of religious persecution in their country is one of the main reasons for the petition," Eddie Lyle, Chief Executive Officer for Open Doors UK & Ireland told BosNewsLife.
"We want the Eritrean authorities to know that Christians in the UK are standing alongside their imprisoned brothers and sisters in Christ." He said his organization had urged supporters to “pray that the petition handed to the Eritrean Ambassador to the UK will make the Eritrean authorities realize that they cannot brush their current human rights abuses under the carpet.”
Since May of 2002, the Eritrean government banned all Christian churches independent of the Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran communities, although rights watchers claim that even 'official' churches are increasingly persecuted.
"The fact that the Eritrean government denies the existence of religious persecution in their country is one of the main reasons for the petition," Lyle said.
"We want the Eritrean authorities to know that Christians in the UK are standing alongside their imprisoned brothers and sisters in Christ."
He said his organization had urged supporters to “pray that the petition handed to the Eritrean Ambassador to the UK will make the Eritrean authorities realize that they cannot brush their current human rights abuses under the carpet."
Eritrean Christians who fled to a refugee camp in neighboring Ethiopia have described being beaten and tortured, news reports said. Some had been sentenced to hard labor or held underground in total darkness for days, according to investigators.
Eritrea has closed Evangelical churches and is keeping known Christians under close surveillance. Many have been ordered to sign a letter recanting their faith, Open Doors and other groups claim. In addition some Christian refugees were reportedly forced to leave their wives and children behind as the alternative would have been to face indefinite detention.
"Together we called on the Eritrean Ambassador to take urgent steps to release the Christians," said Release International’s Chief Executive Andy Dipper. "We want him to make Eritrea aware of the strength of feeling in the UK and ask his government to investigate the plight of Christians imprisoned in his country for their faith," Dipper said. (With reports from Eritrea and BosNewsLife Research).
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