Christian Dies in Military Prison

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An Eritrean Christian died in prison last week, four and a half years after the Eritrean regime imprisoned him for worshipping in a banned Protestant church.

From the southern port city of Assab, local Christians confirmed the death of Magos Solomon Semere on Thursday (15 February) at the Adi-Nefase Military Confinement facility just outside Assab.

According to one source, Semere, 30, died "due to physical torture and persistent pneumonia, for which he was forbidden proper medical treatment." He had reportedly endured a long period of severe illness in the months prior to his death.

A member of the Rema Church, Semere had first been jailed in 2001, when he was arrested for evangelising and starting meetings for worship with six other Christians.

"The government gave hard-labour work punishment to believers for preaching the gospel and starting fellowships," a Christian once jailed in Assab with Semere told Compass. "If they persisted, they would be kept imprisoned for 'violating' the government law."

Semere had been released after 18 months in prison, only to be re-arrested three months later with a large group of Protestants caught worshipping together in July 2002.

When Semere became seriously ill, the source said, he was told to sign a statement renouncing his faith in order to get medical treatment. "He refused to do so," his former prison mate said, "but three other people signed, and they got released."

Semere had been engaged to marry shortly before his July 2002 arrest, but he was refused permission to see his fiancée again during his years in prison.

Despite all the government warnings delivered to Semere, his former fellow prisoner said, "Magos was determined to obey the Lord rather than men."

Semere's death is the third known killing of a Christian for his faith since last October. On 17 October, 2006, Eritrean security police tortured two Christians to death, two days after arresting them for holding a religious service in a private home south of Asmara. Immanuel Andegergesh, 23, and Kibrom Firemichel, 30, died from torture wounds and severe dehydration in a military camp outside the town of Adi-Quala,

Assab, near the facility where Semere died, was targeted for one of the first major crackdowns against Protestant Christians by Eritrean security forces five years ago.

Three months later, in May 2002, the government categorically outlawed all churches not under the umbrella of the Orthodox, Catholic or Evangelical Lutheran denominations.

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