Eritrean government defends seizure of Catholic clinics

Catholics in Eritrea praying after seizure of Church health facilities

The Eritrean government in Asmara has defended the recent nationalisation of Catholic health facilities in the country by saying the law provides for the “separation of powers” and therefore forbids religious institutions from conducting developmental activities of their choice and at will.

Apart from defending the nationalisation, the Information Ministry in Asmara has also sharply criticised Daniela Kravetz who is the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea. The UN independent rights expert, last week, accused the regime in Eritrea of persecuting Christians.

“These actions show that, despite the improved regional climate for peace and security, the human rights situation in Eritrea remains unchanged,” said Daniela Kravetz.

On 12 June, Eritrean authorities ordered the seizure of all Catholic Church-managed health centres. According to information received, soldiers were posted outside some health facilities, while patients were ordered to go home, and staff threatened.

UN condemns

“The seizure of these health facilities will negatively impact the right to health of the affected populations, in particular, those in remote rural areas,” Ms Kravetz explained. “By curtailing the activities of the Catholic Church, the Eritrean authorities are restricting the right of their citizens to enjoy quality health care.”

The Catholic Church manages about 40 hospitals and health centres, mainly in rural areas and some are allocated inside monasteries. Most provide free services, and many have operated since the 1990s.

Eritrean Bishops called for dialogue

Vatican News reported the UN Special Rapporteur saying that the government move followed a call by the Catholic Church for genuine dialogue on peace and reconciliation in Eritrea.

In a pastoral letter issued on 29 April, Eritrea’s four Catholic bishops called on the authorities to adopt a comprehensive truth and reconciliation plan to promote dialogue and strengthen peacebuilding. The letter also urged the authorities to implement reforms so that Eritreans would stop fleeing their country.

Activists and the UN accuse President Isayas Afewerki’s government of human rights abuses which have driven thousands, especially young people, out of the country.

Increased arrests of Christians

This month, Eritrean security forces also arrested five Orthodox priests from the Debre Bizen monastery, three of whom were said to be over 70 years old, for opposing Government interference in Church affairs.

On 17 May, around 30 Pentecostal Christians were reportedly arrested during prayer meetings at different locations in Godeif, south of the capital Asmara. A week earlier, during a private gathering in the Mai Temenai district of Asmara, 141 Christians were arrested, including 104 women and 14 children. Some were reportedly taken to Adi Abeito prison, while others were held by the police. About 50 of the detained have since been released while those remaining are being held without charge, according to reports.

UN urges Eritrea to respect freedoms

Ms Kravetz stressed that arresting individuals for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of religion and belief is a clear violation of Eritrea’s obligations under international human rights law, recalling that freedom of religion is central to the ability of Eritreans to live together peacefully.

The UN envoy will share her findings on the situation during an interactive dialogue that took place earlier this month at the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“I urge Eritrea to live up to its international commitments as a member of the Human Rights Council and allow religious institutions to operate freely and all Eritreans to exercise their right to freedom of religion within the country,” concluded the Special Rapporteur.