An 80-year old Jehovah’s Witness in prison for 11 years

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom calls for his release

HRWF (21.10.2022) – USCIRF Commissioner Frederick Davie has called on the US State Department to secure the release of 80-year-old Tesfazion Gebremichael, who has been in prison in Eritrea for 11 years for the peaceful practice of his Christian beliefs. (see link). Tesfazion is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Due to his age and the poor prison conditions, there is growing concern that Tesfazion may not live long enough to ever be reunited with his family and friends. Four imprisoned Jehovah’s Witnesses between the ages of 62 and 77 have died, since 2011.

Tesfazion’s wife, four children, and five grandchildren are now safely living outside of Eritrea. Therefore, the entire family is now in favor of widely publicizing Tesfazion’s situation, as it would no longer inadvertently endanger them.

Prison conditions

  • In the Mai Serwa Camp, prisoners are crowded into small cells with no room for movement and not enough space to lie flat. Prisoners who need to lie down must do so on their side pressed up against one another
  • No sanitation facilities.Prisoners, men and women alike, are only permitted to relieve themselves at fixed times—twice a day—surrounded by soldiers who observe them
  • No medical care or adequate food/water supplied
  • Prisoners are forced into unpaid slave labor
  • Visitors are not allowed
  • None of those presently imprisoned have ever been formally charged or had the opportunity to defend themselves in court. Since there are no effective domestic legal remedies available to them, their imprisonment amounts to a de facto life sentence

Nationwide persecution

Jehovah’s Witnesses experience ongoing intense persecution in Eritrea. Since the country became independent in 1993, the government has imprisoned, tortured, and harassed Jehovah’s Witnesses.

See, link to Jehovah’s Witnesses’ newly released 2022 annual report on Eritrea. You’ll also find a detailed list of all 20 Jehovah’s Witnesses (14 males and 6 females) in prison.

Jehovah’s Witnesses in Africa, Europe, and the United States have made considerable efforts to diplomatically address the persecution. They have made numerous requests for dialogue with Eritrean officials in Asmara, but the officials either do not respond or refuse to meet with the Witnesses.


International advocacy

Amnesty International

“Amnesty International has documented the religious persecution in Eritrea, including the unlawful detention and inhumane detention conditions for members of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the absence of any information about their whereabouts and their fates, their detention amounts to enforced disappearance. Hence, for years Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have been requesting the Eritrean authorities to disclose their whereabouts and their fates, and they are still alive, to release them immediately and unconditionally.”—Fisseha Tekle, Amnesty International’s researcher covering Eritrea and Ethiopia [issued October 11, 2022.

International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance

September 2022, the IRFBA Council of Experts and Steering Committee accepted the case of Tesfazion Gebremichael for international advocacy

The US State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom currently serves as the Secretariat of the Alliance (link)

Photo: Tesfazion Gebremichael – USCIRF (Courtesy of Jehovah’s Witnesses).

Further reading about FORB in Ethiopia on HRWF website