YT (Minority church members at risk) Eritrea CG  UKIAT 00218 (09 August 2004)
Date of hearing: 27 July 2004
Date Determination notified: 09 August 2004
|Secretary of State for the Home Department||RESPONDENT|
"The Appellant's case is that he was arrested as the leader of a "house church". Perhaps that is putting the matter a little too high - what he seems to have done was for a brief period (about six weeks) to have held Bible study and prayer meetings in his home attended by perhaps a dozen or so people. For all that, however, and in the light of the evidence of the way in which the authorities treated Pentecostalists in the period after the 21 May 2002 decree I do accept on the lower standard of proof firstly that he was an active member of his congregation, secondly that part of that activity following the closure of the church involved him in the activities that he described, thirdly that these activities caused his arrest and fourthly that after his arrest in his original prison of incarceration he was interrogated and beaten. I do not think that he was beaten every day but I do not find his exaggeration of the amount of the beating in interview of great materiality. I note that in the statement which he handed over at the time of the SEF interview he says he was interrogated nine times and beaten on that number of occasions, I think that is the truth, although no doubt under the pressure of trying to convince the interviewer of the truth of the core of his account he somewhat exaggerated."
"Even if the Appellant were of no interest to the authorities on his return to Eritrea I have to consider whether he would become of interest to them as a result of his religious convictions… It is my view almost impossible that a man with this man's religious convictions would be able on return to his native land to refrain from the manifestation of his Christian faith as he understands it or to limit his manifestation of his faith to meetings of less than five people in a house. The overwhelming likelihood is that he would, by virtue of his religious convictions, feel compelled to preach the Gospel whether it be publicly or (more likely) in an underground house church."
"I have to ask myself whether this would place him at any risk of further ill-treatment. It is in my view highly significant that following the immediate aftermath of the decree of 21 May 2002 there is no compelling objective evidence to support the proposition that Pentecostalists continued to be persecuted in Eritrea. The up-to-date Country Assessment does not give any authoritative corroboration of such a proposition and the objective evidence tendered by the Appellant only goes to the immediate post decree period. Like the Home Office Presenting Officer I find it significant that by 2003 it was possible for the pastor of this man's own church to be in communication with the United Kingdom by telephone and by fax illustrating that even so senior an individual is no longer considered by the authorities to warrant detention or ill treatment. I am aware that since that fax was sent it has been asserted that the pastor has been arrested but this would seem to be an assertion inconsistent with the general relaxation that appears to have happened since the Spring of 2002 and I do not accept that assertion." [Our italics.]
"On this basis it seems to me that the Appellant who would have been at risk had he been returned to Eritrea in accordance with the Removal Directions has been able to obtain some security from that risk by effluxion of time and a relaxation of the situation in Eritrea." [Our italics.]
Non-Sanctioned Religious Groups
6.40 The US Department of State report on Religious Freedom, 2003, noted that, "74 military and national service personnel were arrested in February 2002 and remained imprisoned near Assab during the period covered by the report [1 July 2002, to 30 June 2003]. Reports suggest that they are being detained until they repudiate their faith. Some of the detainees reportedly have been rolled around in oil drums, abused by fellow prisoners, and the women sexually abused; some of the detainees reportedly suffer from partial paralysis and other physical injuries as a result of their torture. Other reports describe other individuals and groups in the military and national service who have been detained, harassed, and physically tortured for practicing non-sanctioned religions". [6b] (p4)
6.41 The US Department of State report on Religious Freedom 2003 documented numerous abuses of non-sanctioned religious groups:
On 1 January 2003 "50 members of the Rhema Church in Asmara were detained for 10 days without charge. On 16 February 2003, an additional 17 Rhema Church members were detained for 15 days after meeting in a private residence; some of the members reportedly were beaten while in detention". [6b] (p3)
On 16 March 2003 "more than 70 members of different Protestant churches (Rhema, Full Gospel, Kalehiwot, and Mesert Cristos churches) in Asmara were detained for 10 days. This group reportedly was held in a metal shipping container without ventilation or sanitation facilities". [6b] (p3)
On 23 March 2003 "40 members of the Philadelphia Church in Asmara were detained for 8 days, and some reportedly were subjected to physical torture and pressured to recant their faith. The pastor and other church leaders who went to inquire on their behalf also were detained. Members reported that their pastor was forced to walk barefoot over sharp stones. After 8 days, relatives were forced to sign papers stating that those detained would not attend church services or meet in their homes with other church members". [6b] (p3)
On 17 April 2003 "15 members of a splinter group of the Orthodox Church in Kushte were attacked while meeting in a private residence. A few of the members were admitted to the hospital for treatment as a result of the attacks. On the same day in Asmara, 11 members of the Mesert Cristos Church were arrested while meeting at their church building and detained for 1 day". [6b] (p3)
6.42 Amnesty International advised that "On 7 September , 12 members of the Eritrean Bethel Church, including two children, were arrested at a prayer meeting in Asmara". [7g] (p2)
6.43 The US Department of State report on Religious Freedom 2003 noted that, "There were several reports that on occasion police tortured those detained for their religious beliefs, including using bondage, heat exposure, and beatings. There also were credible reports that some of the detainees were required to sign statements repudiating their faith or agreeing not to practice it as a condition for release. In some cases where detainees refused to sign, relatives were asked to do so on their behalf. Some of these statements reportedly threatened execution for those who continued to attend unsanctioned religious services or meetings". [6b] (p3)
6.44 On 18 September 2003 Amnesty International stated that, "Fifty-seven young male and female members of minority Christian churchs are being held in metal shipping containers at Sawa military camp in Western Eritrea. They were arrested in mid-August  and are being held incommunicado in harsh conditions, which amount to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The 57 prisoners of conscience are school students from all over Eritrea who were sent to Sawa Military Camp in western Eritrea for a compulsory 3-month summer course under new pre-National Service education regulations. They were arrested in the camp for possessing bibles in the Tigrinya language (although this is not illegal) and are imprisoned in metal shipping containers. Conditions in the containers, which have no light or ventilation, are said to be extremely hot and suffocating, and they are allegedly being given little food, refused medical care and have to perform bodily functions inside the container. They are being pressurized to sign statements to abandon their religion and re-join the majority Eritrean Orthodox Church. Five others arrested with them were allowed to go free when they signed the statements". [7h] (p1)
Decision: The Appellant's appeal is allowed.
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