Eritrea says not aware of mass arrest of Christians

Thu Dec 10, 2009 2:49pm GMT

By Jeremy Clarke

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Eritrea said on Thursday it was not aware of reports of an alleged mass arrest of Christians that a rights group says took place in the capital Asmara last weekend.

Eritrea's Information Minister Ali Abdu told Reuters by phone that he had not seen any reports of arrests and that any arrests would not have been religiously motivated.

"I'll be very honest with you ... if someone is arrested, why is it significant what religion they are?" Ali said. "If they were arrested, I'm sure they were committing a crime."

International Christian Concern, a Washington D.C.-based rights group, said 30 "mostly elderly" women had been arrested by security forces while praying at a house on Saturday.

The organisation said most of the detainees were members of the Faith Mission Church, an Evangelical Church with a Methodist background.

The rights group said the church had been operating in Eritrea for more than five decades, but was forced underground in 2002 after the government required all religious groups to register.

An Asmara-based Western diplomat said the arrests had taken place, but that there was uncertainty about the number detained.

"There is some confusion on the exact numbers, whether it is exactly 30 who were imprisoned or somewhere around 25, but the incident is true," the diplomat told Reuters.   Continued...

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