Imagine starting the new term, and the army entering your school. They might take away some key teachers or close the school indefinitely. It’s hard to believe that could happen. It’d be pretty shocking. But in Eritrea the government has taken control of seven secondary schools, which were all run by religious organisations including Catholics, other Christian denominations and Muslims.
An order to hand over the schools was given on Tuesday 3 September. The Eritrean government say that the closures are in line with regulations that were introduced in 1995, which impose a limit on the activities of religious institutions. These regulations have seldom been enforced, and it is widely believed that the closures are actually a retaliation to the church’s criticism of the Ertitrean President, Isaias Afwerki. Following the peace deal with Ethiopia, Catholic bishops in Eritrea bravely made a public call for government reform in a 30-page letter.
The schools that have been shut down are attended largely by students from poorer backgrounds, and several of the schools were founded more than 70 years ago.
There has been growing persecution of Christians in Eritrea. As well as the seizing and shutting down of church-run health centres in June, over 150 Christians have been arrested for being members of churches belonging to unregistered (and thus illegal) denominations.
Police regularly raid the homes of Christians from unregistered denominations. When Christians are arrested, they are often told to renounce their faith as a condition of their release. Hundreds of members of unregistered churches are still in prison, with some having been held captive for more than a decade.
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