African Human Rights Law Journal
On-line version ISSN 1996-2096
Print version ISSN 1609-073X
Eritrea is a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religion country. The country does not have an official state religion. However, since the country's independence in 1991, the relationship between state and religion has been a troubled one. At least four religions are officially recognised by the state: Islam, of the Sunni rite; the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church, part of the worldwide Coptic Orthodox Church of the eastern rite; the Eritrean Catholic Church, part of the worldwide Roman Catholic movement; and the Eritrean Evangelical Church, part of the Lutheran World Federation. There are also a number of religious beliefs which are not formally recognised by the state. Members of these religious groups practise their belief clandestinely at the risk of insurmountable levels of persecution: If caught practising their religion in whatever form, they are treated harshly. The persecution of these groups takes place mainly in the form of coerced repudiation of one's religion. This is routinely accompanied by various forms of human rights violations, such as prolonged arbitrary detention and solitary confinement, including torture. In extreme cases it also entails extrajudicial execution. In this context, freedom of religion is severely restricted in Eritrea due to the excessive levels of state intervention in matters of personal belief or creed. As such, Eritrea has become a major example of religious persecution in the world. This has prompted, amongst other things, the description of Eritrea as one of the worst abusers in the world, along with North Korea. The relationship between the state and religion has been particularly problematic since the Eritrean government introduced a new policy in 2002 ordering the 'closure' of all other religions except the four officially-recognised beliefs. This article critically analyses the troubled relationship of state and religion in Eritrea and, in so doing, it addresses the challenge from a human rights perspective.