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Cablegate: Gse Arrests 27 Women for Praying

VZCZCXRO5298
RR RUEHROV
DE RUEHAE #0427 3481053
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 141053Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY ASMARA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0637
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC
RUMICEA/JICCENT MACDILL AFB FL
RUEPADJ/CJTF-HOA J2X CAMP LEMONIER DJ
RHRMDAB/COMUSNAVCENT
RHMFISS/HQ USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE

UNCLAS ASMARA 000427

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

DEPT FOR AF/E AND DRL/IRF
LONDON AND PARIS FOR AFRICA WATCHERS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KIRF PHUM PGOV SOCI ER
SUBJECT: GSE ARRESTS 27 WOMEN FOR PRAYING

1. (SBU) The Eritrean government (GSE) arrested 27 women
praying together in Asmara on December 6, according to
multiple embassy sources (Note: although numerous media
outlets report 30 arrests, local sources contend it to be 27.
End Note). The women were members of the Faith Mission
Church, a non-approved religious group with roots in the
American Methodist tradition. Those arrested were between
the ages of 45 and 70. Police arrested the women, who met
each Sunday in a different house to worship, after a neighbor
called to alert authorities that the women were praying. The
women were taken to Police Station #1 in Asmara (across the
street from the British Embassy) where they are currently
being held. The women are given water but no food, according
to a close embassy source. Family members must bring food to
the women during visits. Three of the women suffer from
diabetes, and two from hypertension; the women do not receive
medical attention while in prison. Minister of Information
Ali Abdu denied the allegations in a Reuters interview on
December 10, stating he had not heard of the incident and
then adding "I'm sure they were committing a crime."

2. (SBU) The GSE recognizes only four religious groups in
Eritrea: Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim, and Lutheran. Faith
Mission Church is one of the four "compliant" religious
groups, organizations that applied for recognition in 2002 as
official religious groups but have not yet been approved.
The other three groups are the Mehrete Yesus Evangelical
Church, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, and the Baha'i
Faith. The status of the four compliant groups is uncertain.
While many members practice their faith somewhat openly, the
government arbitrarily arrests its members.

3. (SBU) The president of the Faith Mission Church in Asmara
complained to the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA) on Monday
December 7, pointing out the fact that Faith Mission had
completed all the proper paperwork in 2002 and is not an
illegal organization. The ORA was reportedly shocked to hear
that members of Faith Mission had been arrested and told the
president that the office would coordinate with the police to
secure the members' release. The ORA has not been in touch
with Faith Mission since.
McMullen

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