In a further clampdown on religious groups in Eritrea, the government is closing all social initiatives run by the Catholic Church.
Mussie Zerai, an Eritrean priest now living in Italy, told Catholic news agency Fides that in the last few months the government closed five Catholic health clinics and has started to intervene in education.
He says that these changes will hit the population hardest. “In Xorona, for example, they closed the only dispensary in operation that was run by Catholics,” he said. “In Dekemhare and Mendefera, the authorities have banned the activity of Catholic medical centres by stating that they were a duplication of state ones. In reality, public facilities do not work: they do not have medicines, they cannot operate because they do not have suitable equipment and often not even electricity.”
In October the government’s attempt to turn all schools public led to rare street protests in Asmara. The Minister of Education cited a 1995 government declaration stating that all social activities, such as private schools, clinics and orphanages, should be government-controlled. The role and responsibility of the churches was solely to look after the spiritual needs of its members, he said.
When a Catholic Church refused to close a school, the government closed it and incarcerated a nun, Sr. Tinsaw, and a priest, Abba Haile Paulos.