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Christian mother of four dies in desert prison

14 August 2017
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An Eritrean Christian locked up in prison has died for her faith.

Fekadu Debessai Negassi died in prison in the semi-desert town of Metkel-Abet after being denied treatment for an unspecified illness. She was buried on 10 August in Mendefera. She leaves behind a husband and four children.

Fekadu was arrested in May in the southern town of Adi Quala, together with her husband and 17 year old son as part of a door- to-door arrest campaign against Evangelical Christians. They were taken to Adi-Quala prison along with others. The Negassi's three younger children were left alone at home until they were moved to their grandmother's home in a different town.

At the beginning of August authorities released one pregnant woman and a mother of twins from Adi Quala prison. However, Fekadu, her husband and 21 other Christians were moved to Metkel-Abet prison, a military prison northeast of the capital Asmara. Their son was sent to Gergera prison - in the south - with 19 others.

Conditions in these prisons are notoriously harsh. Temperatures regularly rise above 40 - even reaching 48 degrees Celsius (118 degrees Fahrenheit). And being moved far from their home meant that they were unable to receive food from friends and family as they did while at Adi Quala.

The move was fatal for Fekadu. Like so many of her brothers and sisters in Eritrea she has not survived the brutality and injustice of her imprisonment.

Christians in Eritrea are mourning the death of the sister and have asked for prayer as they face this 'vulnerable situation'.

Campaign of arrests

Fekadu Debessai Negassi and her husband are two of an estimated 210 Christians rounded up in the past three months for belonging to non-sanctioned churches. In June, World Watch Monitor reported at least 170 Christians were known to have been arrested since May, when the campaign of detention began. But since then, we have learned that several more arrests have taken place.

CSW reports that 23 Christians were rounded up in Asmara in the first week of August. Then, in mid-July, 16 female national service conscripts - all in their late teens - were taken to Metkel Abet. Their hair was forcibly shaved off to further humiliate them. According to CSW, an unknown number of friends and family members who tried to visit them were also imprisoned.

Open Doors sources also reported the arrest of an orphanage worker at the beginning of the month. She has been moved to Metkel Abet. No further details are available at this stage.

At the end of June, World Watch Monitor reported that 33 Christians were being held in a 'notoriously harsh prison island'. According to CSW, there were many young mothers among the prisoners and the arrests had left at least 50 children without parental care, as husbands were either military conscripts or working away.

Crimes against humanity

Eritrea is ranked as the tenth most difficult country in which to be a Christian, according to Open Doors 2017 World Watch List.

The raids are the latest phase in a crackdown on Christians that has been ongoing since May 2002, when a law was passed prohibiting Christian practice outside the Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran denominations. Since then members of outlawed churches have taken to meeting in secret in people's homes.

CSW describes the latest crackdown as 'unprecedented in its intensity and rough treatment'.

In its June 2016 report, the UN Commission of Inquiry on human rights in Eritrea found 'reasonable grounds to believe' that crimes against humanity have been committed by state officials in a 'widespread and systematic manner' since 1991, including the crime of persecution.

In July the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning the 'systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations' in Eritrea, describing the country as having 'one of the worst human-rights records in the world, with routine human-rights violations taking place every day'. It called on the Eritrean government to end the 'detention of the opposition, journalists, religious leaders and innocent civilians'.

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