Eritrea: children locked in containers for owning Bibles

 Eritrea has locked up dozens of children in metal shipping containers at a military base as punishment for possessing Bibles, Amnesty International has said. The authorities in the east African country are persecuting a minority Christian church by subjecting 27 girls and 30 boys to "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment", it said. The children have been denied proper food and medical care, and are being held in unventilated, overcrowded and extremely hot conditions while undergoing a compulsory "education" course at the Sawa military camp in western Eritrea, Amnesty said. The children, arrested last August in different parts of the country after being found with Bibles in the Tigrinya language, were described as prisoners of conscience who have been promised freedom if they join the majority Eritrean Orthodox Church. "These girls and boys are being held in horrendous conditions merely for their religious beliefs," said Stephen Bowen, Amnesty International UK's campaigns director. Amnesty said its claims were based on sources inside Eritrea which could not be identified for their own safety. The government cracked down on minority churches last year, demanding that they register and reveal any foreign funding, in an apparent effort to crush the evangelical revival movement lest it become a focus of dissent. Several hundred people were arrested earlier this year, including 80 military conscripts who could face the same fate as three Jehovah's Witnesses, who have been detained for nine years for refusing military service on religious grounds. Once a province of Ethiopia, Eritrea proclaimed independence in 1993 and has been ruled as a one-party state ever since by the Popular Front for Democracy and Justice. The New York-based Human Rights Watch yesterday also called for the release of political prisoners in Eritrea. On Thursday the French-based human rights organisation, Reporters without Frontiers, appealed for the release of at least 14 jailed journalists. Eritrea was the biggest prison for journalists in Africa, it said. Source: Ekklesia

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