The Magazine

Do They Know It's Christmas?

Not in Burma and Eritrea.

Dec 31, 2007, Vol. 13, No. 16 • By PAUL MARSHALL
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A rival to Burma's brutality is Eritrea which, since its 1993 independence from Ethiopia, has maintained itself as a militarily mobilized national security state. Only four religious groups--Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran, and Orthodox Christianity, and Sunni Islam--are allowed. Adherents of other faiths are viciously attacked, especially Pentecostals and other evangelicals. In compulsory military service, Bible reading and prayer are banned. Violators may be imprisoned and required to sign statements renouncing their belief as a condition of release. In one instance parents were asked to sign a document stating that their children would be liable to execution if taking part in forbidden religious activities. Unauthorized meetings of more than seven are forbidden: Entire wedding parties have been arrested.

The number of imprisoned evangelicals is probably over 2,000, some 10 percent of the country's total. Incarceration is brutal, with underground cells or metal shipping containers serving as especially severe punishment cells. The Bada detention center is more than 200 feet below sea level and can have temperatures over 130 degrees. People die or go insane. In one incident in 2003, 57 teenagers found with Bibles at a summer military camp were held jailed in metal containers to force them to abandon their faith, and all but six died. In 2005, 161 young people were killed attempting to flee the harsh conditions.

Torture is commonplace, especially tying prisoners in painfully contorted positions for hours or days at a time. In October 2006, two Christians, Immanuel Andegergesh and Kibrom Firemichel, were tortured to death in a military camp. In February of this year, Magos Solomon Semere died under torture at the Adi-Nefase Military Confinement facility outside Assab. On September 5, a 33-year-old woman, Nigisti Haile, was tortured to death at the Wi'a Military Training Center for refusing to recant her Christian faith.

For those who celebrate Christmas and those who do not, this season is an excellent time to remember these and other forgotten people of the world. And New Year's is a good time to resolve that they shall be less forgotten.

Paul Marshall is senior fellow at the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom. His World Survey of Religious Freedom will be published by Rowman and Littlefield in January.