Burial denied for deceased pastor in Eritrea
Pastor Tesfay Seyoum's family were forbidden to bury him in their home town because of his evangelical faith.
Pastor Tesfay, the founding leader of the Eritrean Meserete Kristos Church, had a challenging life. He had been imprisoned for ten years because of his Christian faith and participation in a non-approved religious group.
He developed a serious brain tumour in prison. Authorities denied him any basic healthcare despite several appeals from members of his church and his family. Eventually, prison officials sent him for treatment at a hospital in Asmara, where he died five days later on April 9th. He was in his 60s, leaving behind a grieving wife and child.
Based on Eritrean tradition, deceased bodies should be buried as soon as possible and within the deceased person’s home area. The mourning family members were denied this right because of the Pastor’s Christian faith.
The Christian leader’s body was initially taken home but then was returned to the hospital morgue until the situation was resolved. Eventually, thirteen days after his death, the body of Pastor Tesfay was laid to rest at the St. Tekle Haymanot Cemetery in a suburb north of Asmara.
Evangelical churches are highly persecuted in Eritrea. In 2002, the government outlawed every religion except for Sunni Islam, Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholicism and the Lutheran Church. All other religious groups are illegal, and the government heavily controls approved churches. The government is on the lookout for underground churches and imprisons their leaders. Over the past sixteen years, hundreds of Christians have been imprisoned because of their faith. Approximately 300 believers are known to still be in prison. These Christians are not given a trial, and they are not allowed to see their families. Prison conditions are some of the harshest in the world. Christian prisoners are provided with inadequate food rations, and, in some areas, held within metal shipping containers in extreme desert conditions.