For Immediate Release
October 14, 2003
Nine long years in Eritrean prison camp
On September 24, 1994, three young men—Paulos Eyassu, Isaac Mogos and Negede Teklemariam—were imprisoned in Eritrea without charges or trial. These young men refused to join the military and take up arms. The maximum sentence for conscientious objection is three years in prison. However, nine years later, they are still waiting for a fair resolution. They are being held in the Sawa Prison and denied access to visitors, including their families.
Because Jehovah’s Witnesses conscientiously refuse to serve in the army, a principle of their belief worldwide, they were particularly singled out and stripped of their basic civil rights in 1994 by the Eritrean government as those who “refused to recognize the state and its laws.” Witnesses were subsequently dismissed from employment, denied use of schools and hospitals, and refused identity papers and passports.
Earlier this year, on April 16, 2003, when Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Hadas Alem Congregation in Asmara had just completed their annual religious observance of the death of Jesus Christ, police surrounded their meeting place. All 164 in attendance, including children, were held in custody and interrogated throughout the night. The next afternoon some children and some non-Witnesses who were in attendance were released. That evening the prisoners were moved to the largest prison in Asmara. Male and female prisoners were separated. Police guards were posted outside the religious meeting place of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
On April 19, all children under 15 and the rest of the non-Witnesses who had been in attendance were released. Then the male and female Witness prisoners were separately moved to an undisclosed location. A few days later, approximately 65 Witnesses of the detained Witnesses were released with warnings from the police not to hold religious meetings. Five of the original group detained remained in an undisclosed location. Finally, nearly a month later, on May 14, the remaining Witnesses, four men and one woman, were released.
The three conscientious objectors imprisoned in 1994 remain in detention. A fourth Witness, Aron Abraha, has been imprisoned since May 9, 2001, and another, Mussie Fessehaye, since 2003.
Contact: J. R. Brown, telephone: (718) 560-5600