Eritrea has been dominated by war and drought over the past four decades. An Italian colony, Eritrea was given to Ethiopia in 1951, by the United Nations. Independence was finally achieved in 1993, with Eritrea retaining the entire coastline of Ethiopia, along the Red Sea, where the climate is hot and dry. A small African nation, Eritrea is about the size of Pennsylvania, with a population estimated close to 4.5 million. Religious freedom supposedly exists in this country, with the population being roughly half Muslim and half Christian. Most of the Christians are Orthodox. Fear of Islamist extremism and Christian evangelicalism has led the government to impose severe restrictions on international aid workers and NGO projects.
During 2002, the government banned most Christian denominations, however, the Roman Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran and Orthodox churches seemed to escape persecution and continued to function normally, until recently when three Orthodox priests were detained, two wedding ceremonies were interrupted, and a New Year’s Eve celebration was broken up. Many attendees at these functions were arrested.
Eritrea has no privately owned radio or television stations. In September 2001, the government closed the private press for “endangering national security.” News is delivered through state-run agencies, and criticism of the government is not tolerated.