Eritrea Forbids Burial Of Evangelical Church Leader In Anti-Christian Campaign (Worthy News In-Depth)

Sunday, April 23, 2023 | Tag Cloud

By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News

ASMARA, ERITREA (Worthy News) – A popular Eritrean Christian leader who died this month is being denied a burial place because of his Evangelical beliefs amid an ongoing government crackdown on devoted Christians in the Muslim-majority Horn of Africa nation, rights investigators said Friday.

Pastor Tesfay Seyoum, the founder and leader of Meserete Kristos Church, passed away on April 9 after spending ten years for his faith in Christ in Mai Serwa prison near the capital, Asmara, Christians said. He recently suffered a brain hemorrhage and was sent to the hospital for treatment. But the pastor died 11 days later, leaving behind his wife and daughter, confirmed Christian advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

Following his death, Pastor Seyoum’s body was taken to his home in the Godaif neighborhood of Asmara in preparation for burial. However, permission for a burial site was then denied by authorities, explained CSW, citing a local source.

“The government and the [local] people decided to deny the request for burial based on their belief that the pastor’s Pentecostal orientation

went against their religious beliefs,” said a source in comments shared with Worthy News. The source was familiar with the situation but wasn’t identified due to security concerns.

His body reportedly remains unburied in what Christian Non-Governmental Organization Release Eritrea called a “contradiction to the cultural norms that require bodies to be buried as close to the time of death as possible.”

Christians said the pastor’s body had been returned to the hospital as efforts continued to find a burial site.

CSW’s Head of Advocacy and Africa Team Leader Khataza Gondwe told Worthy News he was shocked about the situation. “We extend our deepest condolences to the family and church of Pastor Seyoum. Following his lengthy and arbitrary detention, they have lost their father, husband, and leader. Their grief is now compounded by the cruel decision to deny him a final resting place.”


He noted that the pastor’s rights “were violated on account of his religious beliefs while he was alive,” and they “are still being violated after his death.” Gondwe called the violations “deeply reprehensible” and “a flagrant affront to the principles of human dignity and non-discrimination foundational to international human rights legislation, including the international covenants to which Eritrea has acceded.”

He confirmed that CSW had urged “the Eritrean government to fulfill its international obligations by ensuring a burial site for Pastor Seyoum as a matter of urgency.” CSW also urged Eritrea to release all prisoners of conscience, “including those detained on account of their religion or belief, immediately and without precondition, and to end its campaign of arrests and discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief.”

Besides the pastor, there are thought to be some 1,000 Christians indefinitely detained in Eritrean prisons and camps,

often without charges, according to Christian rights investigators.

Among them are prominent church leaders such as Reverend Haile Naizge, chair of the Full Gospel Church, and Kuflu Gebremeskel, chair of the Eritrean Evangelical Alliance and visiting lecturer at the former University of Asmara, held since May 23, 2004, CSW recalled.

Additionally, Reverend Million Gebreselassie, pastor of the Rhema Evangelical Church in the city of Massawa and an anesthetist at Massawa Hospital, has been held since June 3, 2004, the CSW list showed. Among others is Reverend Kidane Woldu, a senior pastor of the Muluwengel Full Gospel Church, who has been behind bars since March 18, 2005, Christians said.

Among other long-time prisoners are at least seven Evangelical church leaders who have been detained arbitrarily for at least 18 years,

reportedly in Wengel Mermera Investigation Centre in Asmara, according to CSW investigators.

The crackdown has been linked to Eritrea’s strict policies towards churches and individual believers. In May 2002, Eritrea closed all churches not affiliated with Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran, or Orthodox Christian traditions, including the church founded by the late Pastor Seyoum.


The authorities also launched an ongoing campaign of arbitrary and indefinite arrests that has seen thousands of adherents of unrecognized denominations detained in what CSW called “inhumane, life-threatening conditions, where they may experience torture or even death.”

CSW told Worthy News that the “campaign of arrests continues unabated in 2023.” Among the most recent developments, some 103 young Christians, including those from Mai-Nefhi Technical College, were reportedly detained around Easter in mid-April as they attempted to record Christian music on the YouTube video-sharing platform. They were transported to Mai Serwa after earlier, on March 19, about 30 Christians gathered in a house in Keren were also detained, Christians said.

However, the Eritrean government’s “campaign of repression” also affects permitted denominations, CSW said. The group recalled that at least

44 Orthodox monks were detained this month for supporting Abune Antonios, the legitimate patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church “who was illegally deposed, and who died in detention in February 2022 following 16 years under house arrest.”

CSW said it was “particularly disturbed” that on February 15, Yeneta Israel, an Orthodox monk and a strong supporter of the late patriarch, was found dead “from multiple stab wounds in his monastery in Mendefera.”

Despite these circumstances, government agents reportedly declared his death a suicide. “He was hurriedly buried on February 16

without receiving the appropriate religious rites,” CSW explained.

Advocacy group Human Rights Concern-Eritrea believes that government security agents murdered him. Christians suggested these attacks seem part of an effort by authorities to “perpetuate a stigma against believers” and encourage neighbors to spy on and report each other.


“Those who have become Christians from Muslim backgrounds, or who leave the Eritrean Orthodox Church for a non-traditional church, face extreme pressure and persecution from their own families and communities,” added Christian advocacy group Open Doors.

“Christian men, women, and children as young as 14 are being conscripted into the armed forces to fight in the conflict in Tigray. There’s no time limit on military service, and Eritrea does not allow conscientious objection. In fact, Christian prisoners are often ‘released’ into military service instead of being allowed home.”

Eritrea’s government has denied human rights abuses. Adem Osman Idris, the Permanent Representative of Eritrea to the United Nations Office in Geneva, said recently that “Eritrea was committed to the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all its citizens, through its commitment to social justice, despite unremitting external hostilities

which continued to harass the country.”

He called international criticism, including from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights in Eritrea and others, “part of this harassment, to advance political motives and agenda, a weaponization of human rights in its crudest form against a developing country.”

Eritrea, the official said, “continued to make substantial improvements in human rights for its citizens, including in healthcare and education, implementing serious programs for soil improvement and to mitigate climate change.” The country “would persist on its development agenda, despite the unwarranted harassment by certain powers.”

Eritrea is a one-party state and a highly-militarised society, which the government has sought to justify by citing the threat of war with Ethiopia. However, autocratic President Isaias Afwerki has governed the nation of over 6 million people with an iron fist since it became an independent country in 1993. His People’s Front for Democracy and Justice is the only allowed political party.

Presidential elections scheduled for 1997 never happened, and critics say a constitution ratified in the same year has never been enforced.

The political situation has further impacted devoted Christians, according to Open Doors. “The very high level of state-sanctioned persecution and violence against Christians forces some to flee the country.” Yet the group also sees hopeful signs. “Despite all this [persecution], the church is actually growing, as Christians show extreme courage and joy and embrace the risk of arrest for Jesus.”

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