Government Denies Religious Persecution

The Eritrean government has issued a statement on freedom of religion in the country amid criticism by human rights watchers that it is restricting the right to worship.

In its statement outlining the "basic facts" of religious freedom in Eritrea, the government said "all religions are equal and no religion is more equal than others".

It noted that according to the (still-to-be-implemented) constitution, "every person shall have the freedom to practise any religion and to manifest such practice".

"No groups or persons are persecuted in Eritrea for their beliefs or religion," the statement said. "People are free to worship according to their wish, or to refrain from worshipping or practising religion."

However, in a report on religious freedom in Eritrea, the US State Department said this had "deteriorated" during 2002 and the government had closed religious facilities not belonging to the country's four main faiths - Orthodox Christian, Muslim, Catholic, and Evangelical Christian.

It said members of the Jehovah's Witnesses were particularly subjected to harassment and discrimination. Many of them have refused to take part in military service or to vote "on religious grounds", despite the government's proclamation that no-one is exempt from national service on the basis of religion.

In May 2002, the government issued a decree ordering all religious groups to register. "Comments from senior government officials indicate that groups without significant historical ties to the country will not be licensed to operate," the State Department report said.