East Africa

Harsh crackdown on protest against government takeover of Christian schools

Praying in an Eritrean Church.

Protests have been mounted in Eritrea’s capital city, Asmara, against government plans to take over all schools.

Last week (31 October 2017) armed security officers responded by chasing protesters with sticks and eventually, shooting at them with live ammunition. According to reports, relative calm was restored by evening, although by around 5pm though soldiers were still seen patrolling the streets. Some protesters who were arrested have been released, and some say they were mistreated in order to obtain information.

Over 100 of those who took to the streets were students from the well-known Al Diaa Islamic School, whose Honorary President was arrested for speaking against the government’s proposals. Other religious schools like the Christian Medhanie Alem Secondary School was ordered to immediately close and give a list of all the student to the authorities, saying that role and responsibility of the churches was limited to solely providing Christians’ spiritual needs. When the school resisted, the government reportedly closed the school and arrested a nun and priest.

Eritrea’s Ministry of Education announced in mid-2014, to transform all private – which includes religious – schools into state-financed and administered “community” schools. For the Christian schools to be taken over, this would mean a ban on students wearing any religious items like crosses, which the government says is “to prevent interreligious strife.”