Eritrea: Five Christians Released; Identity Card Introduction Worrisome
Christians have welcomed the release of the five pastoral candidates of the Evangelical Lutheran Church arrested at the end of April in the Eritrean capital of Asmara. Petros Yosief, Bemnet Tesfay, Aklilu Tesfay, Ermias Hadgu and Aron Mehretu were arrested shortly after the church publicly announced their ordination on April 20.
The men spent most of their incarceration in solitary confinement, but in mid-July they were reunited in one cell where they stayed until their release last Sunday. They were never formally charged or subsequently given the opportunity to defend themselves in court. Speculations are that the government arrested the men because they were suspected to be of “Pentecostal persuasion.”
The Evangelical Lutheran Church is one of the four religious institutions the state formally recognizes. Lengthy incarceration without formal charges is more common against those suspected of religious activities outside of the recognized Eritrean Orthodox Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church, Roman Catholic Church or Islam.
No update was available on the 22 Christians arrested in Ginda and Dongolla during May.
In a separate development, Christians in Eritrea have asked for prayer as they face new ways by the government to pressure anyone suspected of religious activities outside of the sanctioned religious groups. The government of President Isayas Afewerki has announced plans to introduce new national identity cards for Eritreans.
Christians are concerned that the upgraded identity card will state the person’s religious affiliation, in addition to bio data such as name, date and place of birth. It is understood that applicants will have to provide written proof that they are registered members of the government-sanctioned religious groups.
This will leave Christians with a predicament. If they do not tell the truth about their affiliation, they risk arrest. If they reveal their affiliation, they could face severe consequences. Boycotting the process altogether will make it impossible for them to maintain their full rights as citizens, leaving them unable to open and operate bank accounts, register businesses, sign lease agreements for housing and obtain permission to travel between cities.
One source explained that this is the formalizing of informal discrimination Christians have been facing since the 2002 closure of unregistered churches. “This will just be an addition to things Christians belonging to unregistered churches have been struggling with. Eritreans have always been asked about their religious affiliation when they apply for visas, birth certificates, land allotment or business licences in order for applications to be processed.”
Iraq: Islamic State Making Advances in Area around Mosul
Open Doors is urging prayer for the area surrounding Mosul where the Islamic State (ISIS) is rapidly killing Christians and members of other faiths. On Wednesday it took control of Tall Kayf, a city with a mixed Christian/Muslim population. Apart from a few Sunni Muslims sympathizing with ISIS, all inhabitants have left. ISIS raised its flag on Mart Shmoni Assyrian Church. By now all Christians have left Tall Kayf, Batnaya, Mar Oraham, Baqofa, Telskuf and Sharafiya. The fight is continuing today. Through the Open Doors relief program, Christians that have fled this area are now being helped at other locations.
Also pray for the Yezidis in the Sinjar area near Mosul, where ISIS has also taken control. Reports of massacres are coming in as well as reports about women and girls being taken by ISIS. Around the Sinjar mountain thousands of Yezidis are surrounded by ISIS. Many face starvation and death.