(London; 05-03-2010) Reports coming out of Eritrea indicate that the government continues to incarcerate thousands of Christian prisoners who refuse to seize practicing their faith in accordance to a government ban in place since May 2002. Over the last few months security officers raided homes and arrested several gospel singers from full gospel church and other banned churches.

Recent months have seen a spate of releases from of people who have been detained for periods ranging from several months to five years. This includes a group of 38 people from different churches across the country that was released from Meiter prison. However there still remain a number of prisoners whose conditions or whereabouts remain undisclosed.

All prisoners of faith are held without any formal charges or due course, in contravention of national and international law. Further many are pressured or subjected to beatings and other forms of inhuman and degrading treatments, for refusing to recant their faith.

Release Eritrea, a UK based human rights organisation campaigning for freedom of religious worship for Eritreans, appeals to the international community to use its influence to persuade the government of Eritrea to address this abject contravention of international law.

Many pastors are known to have been in prison at the maximum security, crime investigation unit (wenjel mermera) in Asmara for close to six years now, some others who have disappeared in recent years were sent to undisclosed locations, amongst them are evangelist Mussie Ezaz and Pastor Uqba Michael Tekelhaymanot. There is grave concern for both as there has been no information regarding their heath or whereabouts. Pastor Ukba Michael had suffered a nervous breakdown during previous imprisonment at sawa military camp in 2005.

Dr berhane Asmelash, director of Release Eritrea spoke of his concerns: ‘whilst I welcome the recent unconfirmed reports of some releases of Christian Prisoners of faith, I have grave concerns for those who remain under arrest, many are in poor health and some are said to have been subject to severe maltreatment. It is important that we continue to advocate for their release and for the restoration of freedom of religious worship in Eritrea’.

The government of Eritrea decreed a ban on all religious groups not belonging to these four recognised groups in May 2002: the Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran Churches of Eritrea and Islam. Members of all other groups have had their worship places closed and their members and adherents are prohibited from practicing their faith even in the privacy of their homes, those who refuse to comply are arrested in various prisons across the country including underground cells and shipment containers in extremely harsh conditions. There have also been reports of severe torture that has resulted in the deaths of several prisoners. The most recent death was that of Hanna Hagos Asgedom who died in Alla Military camp.