5 Things You Should Know About Enforced Disappearances

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Activists hold lighted candles during a vigil on International Day of the Disappeared in Sri Lanka, where some 12,000 complaints of enforced disappearances have been submitted to the U.N. since the 1980s (Photo Credit: Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP/Getty Images).

Activists hold lighted candles during a vigil on International Day of the Disappeared in Sri Lanka, where some 12,000 complaints of enforced disappearances have been submitted to the U.N. since the 1980s (Photo Credit: Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP/Getty Images).

Every year in dozens of countries around the world, thousands of men, women and children are detained by state authorities for no reason, never to be seen again. They are the “disappeared.” In 2012 alone, Amnesty International documented such cases in 31 countries.

Here are five facts you should know on August 30, International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.

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Eritrea’s Independence: 20 Years of Brutal Repression

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Explore the interactive map of suspected places of detention in EritreaExplore the interactive map of suspected places of detention in Eritrea (Photo Credit: Amnesty International USA).

Explore the interactive map of suspected places of detention in Eritrea.

As the 20 year anniversary of Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia approaches, the euphoria and – one may speculate – hope, that characterized celebrations on May 24, 1993 could hardly be more incongruent with the bleak reality faced by the Eritrean people today.

The scope of repression in Eritrea is truly striking. Thousands of prisoners of conscience and political prisoners have disappeared into a vast and secret system of detention, many never to be heard from again. This system of abuse is used to silent all dissent and punish anyone who refuses to comply, including suspected critics of the government, journalists, pastors and other members of “unregistered” religious groups, those who have been caught attempting to flee the country and those forcibly returned to Eritrea from other countries.

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It's Separation of Church and State, Stupid

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© Emad Nasry

© Emad Nasry

Not persecution of the Church by the State. Unfortunately for Patriarch “Abune” Antonios of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the government of Eritrea doesn’t think that way. Considered a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty, he has been under house arrest since January 2006 after continually resisting government interference in religious affairs.

Minority faith groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and over 35 evangelical Christian churches are banned in Eritrea. An estimated 2,000 members of minority evangelical churches which have been outlawed since 2002 are in detention in harsh conditions. Amnesty International has received reports that some detainees have been repeatedly beaten up and tied in painful positions in order to force them to renounce their faith.

In the US, it’s easy to take religious freedom for granted (this may be especially true for Christians?), but clearly not everyone is so lucky. What would you do if your religion or spiritual belief system were banned or oppressed in the country where you live?