Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Cathedral in Asmara, Eritrea. (Photo: David Stanley)
Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Cathedral in Asmara, Eritrea. (Photo: David Stanley)

An Eritrean priest has called on the international community not to close their eyes to the reality of what is happening in his country, reports the Catholic news site Agenzia Fides.

While bilateral relations with countries in the region are improving, the harassment of religious groups at home continues, Fr. Mussie Zerai, a priest of the eparchy of the Eritrean capital Asmara, wrote in an open letter to Fides.

“Catholic and Islamic schools have been closed, eight medical centres and Catholic hospitals have been barred, while the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church Abune Antonios, stopped in 2004, is still under arrest after 14 years,” he wrote.

“The regime in Asmara is one of the world’s toughest political regime, a dictatorship that suppressed all forms of liberty, annulled the 1997 constitution, suppressed the magistracy, militarised the entire population. A dictatorship that, in a word, has created a State-prison.”

Eritrea’s human rights violations have been well documented by rights groups, NGOs and the UN. The priest said it should not be forgotten that “in the 2016 [UN Commission on Human Rights] report, we come to the conclusion that there are well-founded elements to refer the main leaders of the Government to the International Criminal Court”.

Father Thomas Reese, of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, told a US Human Rights Commission hearing in April that Eritrea remained “one of the worst examples of state-sponsored repression of freedom of religion or belief in the world”, where an estimated 1,200-3,000 people are detained on religious grounds – in the approximately 60 prisons and camps that make up Eritrea’s extensive prison network.

Eritrea is 6th on the 2018 Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian.

“One can pretend to close one’s eyes to reality in the name of geostrategic and economic interests. Or one can give voice and content with force to the values of freedom, democracy, justice, solidarity,” the Eritrean priest said.