Without official explanation, the Eritrean government has ordered the closure of all Christian churches that are not Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Lutheran.
SIM (formerly Sudan Interior Mission), an evangelical Protestant organization active in Eritrea since the 1950s, received the announcement on May 21 via the U.S. Embassy in Eritrea. The news came as a surprise, since Eritrea's constitution mandates freedom of religion.
The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) reported that the dominant Eritrean Orthodox Church could be pressuring the government to close independent evangelical and charismatic churches "in the wake of what appears to be a budding revival movement occurring within the traditional Orthodox Church, as well as a recent outbreak of evangelical fervor within the Protestant community."
Many Eritrean soldiers became Christians because of personal evangelism and Christian radio broadcasts during the war for independence from Ethiopia from 1962 to 1991. The Eritrean Orthodox Church claims to have 1.7 million members in 1,500 churches. Eritrea formed a single diocese within the Ethiopian Orthodox Church until its independence in 1993.
The WEA report says foreign Muslim groups may also be playing a part. The political and military situation is volatile. The influx of independent religious sects has increased tensions in the country, which borders the Red Sea.
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The WEA has reported in a letter from conference moderator Mark Albrecht that the "crackdown comes as somewhat of a surprise, as Eritrea's constitution allows for full freedom of religion, and until these recent developments there have been good inter-religious relations."
The 2001 International Religious Freedom Report on Eritrea said that "citizens generally are very tolerant of one another in the practice of their religion; however, societal attitudes toward Jehovah's Witnesses are the exception to this widespread tolerance."
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