ERITREA: A Secular Country with Absolute Freedom of Belief
Embassy of Eritrea

The Embassy of Eritrea wishes to register strong objections to the US State Department’s 2003 report accusing the Government of Eritrea of restricting religious freedom.  The report is full of sweeping and slanderous accusations that are based upon unsubstantiated rumors, disseminated on the internet by some disgruntled Eritreans who lack constituency and credibility. It fails to reflect the objective realities of social and religious life in Eritrea.  The individuals in the State Department who compiled the report from the internet have no clue or knowledge of the cultural dimensions of Eritrean society. 
 
In fact, the latest smearing of Eritrea’s reputation through the dissemination of lies and unfounded accusations on religious freedom is part and parcel of a concerted effort to undermine the political and social achievements and progress made in Eritrea as well as an attempt to derail it from its successful path towards economic prosperity. 

Facts on the ground show a very different picture than the one wrongly presented by the State Department’s report.

· Eritrea is a secular country with absolute freedom of belief. 

· Peaceful coexistence and religious harmony have been a part of Eritrea’s history for centuries, a history in which we take great pride.  The population, divided almost equally between Christians and Muslims and comprised of approximately 14 different religious groups, is tolerant of one another’s practices and regularly celebrates holidays and major religious events together.  One can observe Catholic, Protestant, Coptic Churches and Mosques built side by side all over the country.

· The Constitution provides for the separation of church and state and explicitly recognizes the freedom and rights of individuals to follow and practice their chosen religion.  It also lays out the legal protection entitled to all citizens against religious discrimination and persecution.  Freedom of religion is not only protected by law but is also a tradition and culture respected by every citizen.

· All religions are viewed equally under the law and therefore are all required to abide by the legal guidelines set forth, including registration and transparent and accountable declaration of funding sources.  This measure is designed to prevent the emergence of violent sectarianism dressed falsely in the garb of religious belief.  No one is allowed to preach hatred or division under the cloak of religious freedom. 

· Religious equality and freedom in Eritrea mean that all people, Muslim and Christian alike, must obey the same laws and are subject to the same rights and social obligations.  Religious objections are not sufficient grounds for refusing to recognize the existence and sovereignty of the country as some members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been doing.  Moreover, religious objections do not exempt anyone from performing national service.  Pursuant to the National Service Proclamation No. 82/1995, “no Eritrean citizen is exempted from fulfilling the National Military Service requirement on the bases of religion, gender, ethnic origin etc. except on the bases of age and disability.” 

· No one is discriminated or prosecuted for carrying or reading religious literature, or for saying the prayers demanded by their religious faith.
 
We hope the State Department would correct immediately the unsubstantiated accusations made against the people and Government of Eritrea.  The Embassy is prepared to provide additional and detailed clarifications on the erroneous assertions made in the 2003 religious freedom report. 

Embassy of Eritrea, Washington, DC, 06 January 2004