Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, the patron of Release International, recently presented a petition to the Eritrean Embassy and No.10 Downing Street calling for religious freedom for Eritrean Christians imprisoned and tortured for their faith.
Tens of thousands signed the petition, after a major campaign by Release which included publication of the book Song of the nightingale. This is a first-person account by gospel singer Helen Berhane, who was incarcerated in a shipping container and brutally beaten by the Eritrean authorities.
The petition was handed in by Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, who resigned his post as Bishop of Rochester to speak out on behalf of persecuted Christians.
Eritrea has imprisoned more than 2000 Christians, some in underground cells or shipping containers, and allows limited freedom to only a few traditional faiths.
Tens of thousands of Eritreans have fled the brutal regime, escaping to neighbouring Sudan, Ethiopia and Yemen. Each week up to 500 risk the minefields, crocodile-inhabited rivers and border guards who have been ordered to shoot to kill.
Bishop Michael said: ‘We want to assure the government of Eritrea that Christians are loyal citizens and present no danger to the integrity of the Eritrean nation. We are appealing to the government of Eritrea to allow all Christians freedom of assembly, worship and expression’.
Andy Dipper of Release International, said, ‘Our message to Eritrea is stop the brutality. We’re calling on Eritrea to honour the right to freedom of religion, guaranteed under its own constitution’.
One Christian there called Hzkias has spoken of his treatment. He was chained and kept in solitary confinement in a tiny pitch-black cell for five months. When he was finally let out he said, ‘I looked like another creature. My hair and nails were long. My body colour was yellow’.
Other prisoners have described being brutalised to try to make them renounce their faith. ‘They are torturing and killing Christians’, says Hanibal, a Christian activist who is documenting the persecution in Eritrea. ‘Christians are treated like animals’.
Release is helping Eritrean refugees start their own small businesses, and is supporting churches in refugee camps by giving them Bibles and Christian resources.