| Religious Freedom Ranking:
1 out of 5 stars: Serious Violations
Eritrea has a population of 5.8 million. Reliable statistics are not available, but an estimated 50 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim. Thirty percent is Orthodox Christian, and 13 percent is Roman Catholic. Other groups accounted for are Protestants, Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Buddhists, Hindus, and Baha’is. There is also a small population of people that practice indigenous beliefs.
In 2009 the U.S. Secretary of State designated Eritrea a “Country of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act for particularly severe violations of religious freedom.
Although the 1997 Constitution--yet to be implemented--provides for freedom of religion, the government has banned religious organizations from any involvement in politics. Religious groups are required to register with the state, but the government has not approved any new groups since 2002.
The government harasses and detains thousands of members of unregistered religious organizations without due process. Religious prisoners are held in extremely harsh conditions and are subjected to torture. There are reports of deaths occurring that are of direct consequence to inhumane abuse. For example, some prisoners reported that they were detained in unventilated underground cells that had no sanitation. When they passed out from the heat and stench, they were taken outside until they were conscious, then brought back into their cells. Other prisoners were hung from trees by their arms and legs for weeks until they no longer had use of their limbs, and other prisoners were forced to feed and bathe them. The government also exercised substantial control over the four major religions: the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the Evangelical (Lutheran) Church of Eritrea, Islam, and the Roman Catholic Church. These are the only religions registered and recognized by the government.
A July 1995 proclamation lists specific guidelines on the role of religion and religious affiliated non-government organizations in development and government, stating that development, politics and public administration are the sole responsibility of the government and its people. As a result, religious organizations may fund, but not initiate or implement, development projects. The proclamation also sets out rules governing relations between religious organizations and foreign sponsors.
The draft Constitution provides for the "freedom to practice any religion and to manifest such practice." However, there is government persecution of the small community of Jehovah's Witnesses. In October 1994, the government revoked the trading licenses of Jehovah's Witnesses and dismissed those who worked for the civil service. This government action resulted in economic difficulties for the Jehovah's Witnesses, especially former civil servants and businessmen.
The Witnesses' refusal on religious grounds to participate in national service or vote in a referendum spurred widespread criticism that the members were collectively shirking their civic duty. Government actions against the Witnesses include: denial of passports, identification cards, trading licenses and government housing. However, the Witnesses are not barred from meeting in private homes.
Eritrea and Ethiopia have had conflicts in the past over their border, the dispute seemingly ending in 2000 with a peace deal between the nations. However, in 2012 Ethiopia attacked several militant bases in Eritrea. The militants are accused of attacking Ethiopian bases, and are believed to be supported by Eritrea, the Ethiopian government claims. Eritrea is also suspected of supporting a Somali Islamist group linked to Al Qaeda and has ties with Iran.
2010 U.S. State Department International Religious Freedom Report on Eritrea
Eritrea - New World Encyclopedia
Eritrea Country Profile- BBC News
Ethiopia Hits at Bases Run by Militants in Eritrea- NYTIMES.com