Death in Custody of a Christian Woman in Eritrea

Fikadu Debesai, a Christian woman arrested for practising her faith, has died while in custody. Shewas taken to a prison near Gahtelay and Shiib along with her husband Afwerki for practising her faith, after a round-up in May 2017, in which many people were arrested in Adi Kwala, Southern part of Eritrea. The Government of Eritrea is infamous for detaining people in remote places like the region near Gahtelay, often holding them incommunicado and under harsh treatment where they suffer beatings, rape, disease-inducing unhygienic conditions, and delay or denial access to medical attention.

Fikadu’s three younger children were left without parents when their parents were arrested, and are now without a mother, and Human Rights Concern – Eritrea’s source from Eritrea has confirmed that her eldest son has been held in a labour camp. She was buried on Thursday 10 August 2017, and her husband was not even allowed to bury his wife.

The Government of Eritrea continues its practice of arbitrary persecution and detention of Eritreans unabated. The deaths in custody continue to rise due to the inhumane conditions in which prisoners are kept and the torture they suffer at the hands of the jailers. Prisoners of faith like Fikadu are detained and tortured simply for not recanting their faith.

The round up was part of the continuing crackdown by the Eritrean government on any religious groups that fall outside the four denominations it claims to tolerate. Officially the Eritrean government allows the practice of the Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran denominations as well as Islam. Despite this, the patriarch of the Orthodox Church in Eritrea, Abune Antonios, has been under house arrest for more than 11 years and, despite a bizarre attempt at feigned reconciliation between the church and state, he remains under house arrest to this day.

It has become evident that the official stance of tolerating some denominations like the Orthodox one is a lie. There might be a misconception that the prisoners of faith are only those of Pentecostal or Jehovah’s Witnesses denominations. However, the Government of Eritrea has persecuted and continues to persecute anyone who is ‘spiritual’, and the term really means anyone who is dedicated to their faith (a synonym might be a ‘religious’ person), irrespective or their denomination.

The systematic inhumane treatment of prisoners which led to deaths such as that of Fikadu Debesai are contributing factors to the crimes against humanity of which the Government of Eritrea stands accused.

Human Rights Concern Eritrea condemns the Government of Eritrea’s continuing practice of jailing people of faith and demands that it free all arbitrarily detained prisoners without delay.

Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)
19 August 2017