05/03/2021 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued a report in April of this year, recommending once again that the Department of State designate Eritrea a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for its severe violations of religious freedom.
USCIRF made the same recommendation in last year’s report. State followed the recommendation, announcing the designation in a December 2020 statement that condemned Eritrea for its “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.” Burma, China, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan were also designated as CPCs in that announcement.
Eritrea aggressively suppresses the free practice of religion and has garnered a well-earned reputation for being among the worst persecutors in the world. Prisoners of conscience often languish in Eritrean prison for years before their cases are even heard, suffering unimaginably inhumane living conditions and regular incidents of torture for their faith.
Eritrea did release several hundred religious prisoners on bail in 2020, apparently in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but USCIRF reports that many more remain. “In 2020, approximately 500 to 1,200 individuals were estimated to be in prison in Eritrea due to their faith.” Leaders from the Full Gospel Church and the Orthodox church have been imprisoned since 2004, according to the report.
The European Union recently announced that it was sanctioning Eritrea’s National Security Office for “serious human rights violations in Eritrea, in particular arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances of persons and torture committed by its agents.” The US did not join the EU in sanctioning Eritrea, keeping instead to its years-long policy of conciliation rather than confrontation. Some think this policy may change considering recent happenings in neighboring Ethiopia, though the impact of any resulting policy changes on Eritrean religious minorities is uncertain at best.
USCIRF is one of the leading bodies monitoring the state of religious freedom around the world. A nonpartisan commission of Congress, USCIRF works to make the world a freer place for religion through careful study of religious persecution, in-depth analysis of the problems, and the formulation of policy recommendations to the US government.