Eritrea - Religion
There are no reliable statistics of religious affiliation in Eritrea. The Pew Charitable Trust estimates that Orthodox Christians comprise approximately 57 percent of the population, Muslims 36 percent, Roman Catholics 4 percent, and Protestants, including Evangelical Lutherans, Baptists, Presbyterians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals, and others, 1 percent. In general, most of the Christians live in the highlands, while Muslims and adherents of traditional beliefs live in lowland regions.
Systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations continue in Eritrea. Violations include torture or other ill-treatment of religious prisoners, arbitrary arrests and detentions without charges, a prolonged ban on public religious activities, and interference in the internal affairs of registered religious groups. The religious freedom situation is particularly grave for Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The government dominates the internal affairs of the Orthodox Church of Eritrea, the country’s largest Christian denomination, and suppresses Muslim religious activities and those opposed to the government-appointed head of the Muslim community.
In 2002, the government increased its control over religion by imposing a registration requirement on all religious groups other than the four officially-recognized religions: the Coptic Orthodox Church of Eritrea; Sunni Islam; the Roman Catholic Church; and the Evangelical Church of Eritrea, a Lutheran-affiliated denomination. The requirements mandated that the non-preferred religious communities provide detailed information about their finances, membership, activities, and benefit to the country.
No religious group has been registered since the registration requirement was imposed in 2002, although the Baha’i community, Presbyterian Church, Methodist Church, and Seventh-day Adventists have all submitted the required applications when the registration law was first enacted. As a result of the registration requirement and the government’s inaction on applications, unregistered religious communities lack a legal basis on which to practice their faiths publicly, including holding services or weddings. The government’s campaign against religious activities by persons belonging to unregistered denominations frequently targets Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses, the latter of whom are denied citizenship by an October 1994 Presidential Decree.
The government continued to arrest and detain followers of unregistered religious communities. While the country’s closed nature makes exact numbers difficult to determine, recent estimates suggest 1,200 to 3,000 persons are imprisoned on religious grounds in Eritrea, the vast majority of whom are Evangelical or Pentecostal Christians. The government regularly tortures and beats political and religious prisoners, however, religious prisoners are sent to the harshest prisons and receive some of the cruelest punishments.
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