Mother jailed in Eritrean crackdown on Christians dies in prison

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A Christian mother arrested during a government crackdown against evangelicals in Eritrea died in jail last week.

Fikadu Debesay was imprisoned alongside her husband in May, but died last week in the desert camp of Metkel Abiet, in Eritrea’s Northern Red Sea Region, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). Her cause of death is unknown, though the region of her camp is known for its punishing heat.

Debesay was arrested in May during raids targeting evangelical Christians in the town of Adi Quala, as part of a crackdown against unsanctioned churches across Eritrea.

CSW chief executive Mervyn Thomas said: ‘Our thoughts and prayers are with her family at this painful time. We think particularly of her children, who are mourning their mother in the absence of their detained father, and of the other children whose parent or parents are unjustly incarcerated.’

The government crackdown goes back to May 2002, when the state essentially banned religious practices not associated with the Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran and Orthodox Christian denominations or Sunni Islam. Since May this year, as many as 210 Christians have reportedly been detained, with 23 Christians rounded up just in the first week of August.

Thomas added: ‘It is alarming to note that conditions and treatment in detention are so inhumane that they can cause a mental breakdown. Clearly, human rights and fundamental freedoms continue to be violated comprehensively in Eritrea, and the situation of freedom of religion or belief is deteriorating. Once again we urge the international community to ensure that the government and its officials are made to account for the crimes perpetrated against Eritrean citizens, and to maintain pressure on the regime until every prisoner of conscience is freed without precondition.’

This week Eritrean Catholic priest and government critic Father Mussie Zerai, who has been responsible for saving thousands of lives of migrants in the Mediterranean, described a ‘war against migrants in the Mediterranean’. He was protesting against a ban by Tripoli’s government on NGO rescue ships operating closer than 97 miles from the African coast, according to ANSAmed.

Zerai is a vocal opponent of the Eritrean government and its treatment of its citizens, and was in 2015 nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. He has come under scrutiny recently after being accused of illegally sending information about boats and landings to NGO refugee rescue ships. He said that he has always acted in full legality and that his ‘interventions are aimed at saving human lives’.

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