UN expert’s mandate renewed, Christians face continued persecution

Following a call from DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project) and partners on the UN Human Rights Council to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, a resolution to extend the mandate for a further year was adopted in mid-July 2020. The resolution was adopted by a vote of 24 in favour, 10 against and 13 abstentions. The decision was welcomed by rights groups.

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American-Eritrean political prisoner Ciham Ali Ahmed, who has been in prison since she was 15 years old, has seen the first commitment from an American politician concerning her case, which has been ongoing for eight years. Following a successful social media campaign launched on Ahmed’s birthday by One Day Seyoum, Senator Kamala Harris stated in mid-May 2020 that her office would be doing “all they can for Ciham”. who was imprisoned in 2012 and never formally charged or tried. She was arrested upon returning to Eritrea, most likely in relation to her father who was a minister in the government who previously fled Eritrea. Her fate or whereabouts remain unknown.

In separate developments, Eritrea has continued with its repression of Christians, with reported cases of arrest and detention of Christians from minority church groups. An annual demonstration was held online on 28th May 2020, protesting the reported persecution of Christians in Eritrea. Since then, 30 Christians were reportedly arrested at a wedding in Asmara in late June 2020. The group was taken to a local police station and followed a pattern of recent arrests in 2020 of Christians attending services or ceremonies, as reported by religious freedom groups.

In September 2020, it was confirmed that at least 27 prisoners, who had been detained due to their Christian religion, had been released, with some reports suggesting that up to 69 had been released. Some had been held in long-term detention without charge. Eritrea has long been denounced for violations of its citizens’ rights to freedom of religion or belief, including in reports by the UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.