Eritrean mother who was arrested in crackdown on evangelical Christians dies in jail

Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Cathedral in Asmara, Eritrea. | Wikimedia Commons/David Stanley

A mother of three who was arrested in May during the ongoing crackdown against Evangelical Christians in Eritrea has died in jail last week.

Fikadu Debesay, who was detained along with her husband in May, died last week in Metkel Abiet, a desert camp in the Northern Red Sea Region.

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the cause of Debesay's death is still unknown, but Metkiel Abiet, where she had been detained, is located in an area known for its oppressive heat and aridity. The Christian mother, who was arrested in the raid in Adi Quala town, was buried on Aug. 10 in Mendefera.

"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," said CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas.

Debesay and her husband were arrested during the campaign of house-to-house raids targeting members of non-sanctioned churches in several towns in Eritrea in May this year.

The crackdown on unregistered Christian sects has been ongoing since May 2002, when the Eritrean government enacted a law banning religious practices not affiliated with the Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran and Orthodox Christian denominations or Sunni Islam.

Arrests are conducted monthly, with at least 23 Christians rounded up in the capital city of Asmara in the first week of August alone. Last month, 16 female national service conscripts in their late teens were taken from their place of assignment in Adi Halo and detained in Metkel Abiet camp.

At least 210 Christians are believed to have been detained in desert camps and military facilities since May. Most were detained during the house to house raids, while a few were arrested at prayer meetings.

The conditions at the detention facilities have been known to be so harsh that a woman who had been detained in early June is reported to have become mentally ill.

"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," Thomas said.

Thomas called on the international community to ensure that the Eritrean government and its officials are held accountable for the "crimes perpetrated against Eritrean citizens," and to maintain pressure on the regime until all prisoners of conscience are set free without precondition.