Dear readers: After I read Selam Kidane’s well written article ‘Silence of the Lame “, I have decided to re-post below two open letters which were written in June 2005, and both were posted on Asmarino.com (old website). The first letter was written by Alliance of Eritrean Evangelical Christians in the U.K in response to Christian Solidarity Worldwide. The second letter was my response to the former. Although written in 2005, the issue raised then remains the same now.
Open Letter to Christian Solidarity Worldwide
Friday, 24 June 2005
Alliance of Eritrean Evangelical Christians in the U.K
Re: Campaign on Eritrea
Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
First of all we would like to thank you for the interest you have shown on Eritrea.
Eritrea as you know has a diverse community and its people have suffered under successive Ethiopian rulers until it was liberated and became independent on the 24th of May 1991. While the Eritrean people were suffering, the world community including Britain showed no interest and it is only through the Grace of God and the sheer determination and sacrifice of its people Eritrea became independent.
After liberation, when Eritreans at last breathed a sigh of relief, an unexpected invasion by Ethiopia ignited another round of border War in 1998. This war was costly to both the people of Eritrea and Ethiopia and up to one hundred thousand people lost their lives. This loss of life was unparalleled in recent times and almost every Eritrean family has lost loved ones and are still in mourning.
You may be aware that the border dispute was settled through international arbitration in 2000 with what is known as The Algeris agreement and through the international Court of Justice at The Hague. As part of the EU, Britain together with other countries was one of the sponsors of the agreement. Ethiopia refused to accept the decision on the border commission despite signing a binding agreement at the beginning of the process, but again to the disappointment of Eritreans the world community repeated history by keeping a blind eye towards Ethiopia’s disregard to the rule of Law. In fact if anything the prime minister of Ethiopia has been rewarded by becoming a member of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa, while thousands of Eritrean farmers remain displaced as a result of Ethiopia’s occupation.
As evangelical Christians we share with some of your concern in regard to the closure of some churches and continue to pray about this and liaise with the Eritrean Government. However we are also extremely concerned with the way your campaign has been carried out exaggerating and reporting non factual information and in our view prolonging the suffering of the Eritrean people. It seems to us that your campaign has been influenced and hijacked by very few Eritrean Christians who have deep seated political agenda and unfortunately are using the churches in this regard. This very few Eritrean campaigners do not represent the Broad evangelical church in the U.K or worldwide but themselves. It is our opinion that your aggressive campaigning is damaging to both the church in Eritrea and in the U.K.
We believe that as Christians our role is to work with our community and share with their suffering and at the moment Eritreans are suffering as a result of the injustice that is carried out by the international community.
Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any queries.
E mail AEEuk@hotmail.co.uk
Alliance of Eritrean Evangelicals in the United Kingdom
Cc. Premier Radio Christian Concern for freedom of Conscience Ireland
Open letter to Alliance of Eritrean Evangelical Christians in the U.K
Re: Campaign on Eritrea
26 June 2005
Dear Brothers and sisters,
I am writing in response to your letter dated 24the June 2005, addressed to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). I am not an evangelical Christian or a member of CSW, but as your open letter was widely publicised and open to the public, I thought I should express my opinions on the issues raised, as the issues you raised are matter of public interest, especially for Eritreans like me.
Firstly, I have read the contents of your letter with great sadness, as you did not address the plight of the Eritrean Evangelical Christians inside Eritrea. Instead, you attacked CSW and some brave Eritrean evangelical Christians who have decided to stand up for their fellow Christians, who are suffering as we speak under the Eritrean government. It is unfortunate that you have elected to indulge in articulating the lack of support from the international community in yester years, and during the current debacle with the Ethiopian regime, as if that was the main issue for the suffering of Eritrean at the moment. In my humble opinion, it is now 14 years since our independence, and we can not continue to blame the outside world for the poor management of our affairs by the current regime in Asmara.
Yes, it is true that the Eritrean people had suffered tremendously under the Ethiopian rulers and other colonisers before them, and that was why they fought for thirty years and paid the highest price. They thought that once Eritrea becomes independent, its people will be free, and will enjoy the basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled to. But that is not what is happening to your fellow Eritrean Evangelical Christians in Eritrea today – Is it? Since May 2002, evangelical churches have been banned, evangelical church followers are imprisoned, tortured, they are worshiping clandestinely, and they have been asked to deny their faith.
While you labour in criticising the inaction of the international community, you seem to shy away in condemning the Eritrean government for what it has been doing to our people. You also chose to accuse those who are campaigning for the rule of law and religious freedom now.
In relation to the border conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia, and the current unfortunate stalemate, it is true that so many lives were lost from both sides between May 1998 to June 2000, and about half a million have been internally displaced. It is also unfortunate that Ethiopia has refused to implement the border ruling. However, that is not an excuse for the Eritrean government not to deal with its internal problems. The border issue should not be used by yourself or others who have been blindly supporting what the government is doing to its own citizens. The issue of human rights abuses carried out by the Eritrean government should be a big concern to all people of good will, but especially to Eritrean citizens. Pointing out these human rights abuses should not make those doing the pointing less Eritreans. My prayers and wish is that, the border conflict to be resolved peacefully, and should no longer be used to cover-up the gross human rights abuses which have been committed by the Eritrean government.
In regard to your point where you said “As evangelical Christians we share with some of your concern with regard to the closure of some churches and continue to pray about this and liaise with the Eritrean Government”. My comment to your above statement is this: if you have been liaising with and talking to the Eritrean Government regarding the suffering of your fellow Christians, and the closure of their churches in Eritrea, how come that the churches are still closed? And more and more Christians have been rounded up from their homes, work places, and from the streets and wedding parties? How come Christians are still imprisoned, tortured, and have been asked to renounce their Christian faith? How come that the Eritrean government spokesperson is denying the existence of any religious persecution in Eritrea? Instead of accepting that it exists, and working with you and others to eradicate it?
Why would you be concerned with the way CSW has been campaigning against the illegal closure of churches in Eritrea, and the unlawful imprisonment of your fellow Christians? Shouldn’t it be your duty and obligation as Christians to join the campaign and voice for the voiceless? What makes you think that their campaign have been exaggerated and are based on non factual information? Are you saying that the Eritrean government is not detaining or torturing Christians because of their faith and beliefs? How do you explain the detention of more than sixteen Pastors, and over nine hundred Christians without due legal process? In my view, the suffering of the Eritrean people can only be prolonged if all of us cannot stand together and say enough to our tormentors.
In my humble opinion, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a reputable International Human Rights Organization, specializing in religious freedom. It works on behalf of those persecuted for their Christian beliefs, and promotes religious liberty for all. So, I do not think it can be hijacked by anyone, as you alleged in your infamous letter. Those few brave Eritrean Christians you were referring to are simply fulfilling their duties and obligations as Christians and Eritreans. Whether they have deep seated political agendas or not, it is their legitimate right to openly campaign for the opening of their churches in Eritrea, and for the release of all religious prisoners unconditionally. That is what you are supposed to be doing individually or collectively. Trying to condemn those brave Eritreans can only expose your weaknesses for not standing for your fellow Eritrean Christians, and the Eritrean people at large, in time of their need and difficulties.
I am also wondering how the CSW’s “aggressive campaign” would damage the churches in Eritrea and in the U.K? The churches in Eritrea have already been closed since May 2002, and its followers have been incarcerated for peaceful exercise of their faith and beliefs. Unlike you, they do not enjoy the universal rights and freedoms secured for others as human beings. In my opinion, your churches reputation in the UK can only be damaged by your inaction and being passive when your fellow Eritrean Christians are suffering big time. Keeping quiet is one thing, but when you start attacking the campaigners instead of the tormenters and the perpetrators, it can raise more questions on your genuineness as God-fearing Christians.
If your role as Christians is to work with your community, and to share their suffering, as you asserted in your open letter to CSW, then your fellow Eritrean Christians are calling for your solidarity now, in their plight against the repression and the abuses they are experiencing. Some have been cruelly tortured and held incommunicado in different prisons, and in shipping metal containers. Their suffering is not caused by the injustice that is carried out by the international community as you emphasized in your letter, but it has been rather imposed by the Eritrean government. So, it is about time for you to appeal to the Eritrean government on their behalf and ask for the following:
1. For all religious prisoners to be released immediately and unconditionally, and
2. The ban on the churches to be lifted without any conditions.
If it is not too much, you can also join us in our campaign for the immediate release of all prisoners of conscience and journalists, for the rule of law and equality before the law in Eritrea, for a constitutional – transparent and democratic government, for the right to life and liberty, for freedom of thought and expression, and for religious freedom.
With best regards
Human Rights Activist,
London – UK.