Even legal groups face persecution. The Eritrean government has periodically targeted Catholic and other religious institutions.
In August, the Eritrean government took over the Hagaz Agro-Technical School, a Catholic institution founded and run by the Lasallian Brothers. The school trains students in farm machinery, agriculture, soil conservation, and animal husbandry.
Government officials shut down several Catholic-run schools and hospitals in 2019, saying religious bodies could not run these institutions, BBC News reports. Their legal pretext is a 1995 regulation that restricts social projects and welfare projects to the state. The regulation has been used intermittently to limit religious institutions’ activities and to pursue perceived critics of the government.
Eritrea’s Catholic bishops have opposed the application of the regulation, arguing that the Church’s social services are not in opposition to the government.
The government has drawn international criticism, including a May letter sent to Estifanos Habtemariam Ghebreyesus, the Eritrean ambassador in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
In that letter, officials of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Church in Chains-Ireland, Release Eritrea, Human Rights Concern-Eritrea, and the Eritrean Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom highlighted multiple instances of human rights violations. These included forced conscription of minors and “unjust, arbitrary and indefinite detention” of tens of thousands of citizens who are imprisoned in “harsh conditions.” Hundreds of Christians are imprisoned “solely on account of their faith.”
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an advisory body to the U.S. government, has said that Eritrea has “one of the worst religious freedom records in Africa.”
Since 2004 the U.S. State Department has designated Eritrea as a Country of Particular Concern for its religious freedom abuses.