English Africa Service – Vatican City
The Catholic Church in Eritrea says it is dismayed by the Eritrean Government’s response to the nationalisation of twenty-nine (29) health facilities across the country. In a statement translated from Tigrinya and made available to Vatican News through the office of the General Secretary of the Eritrean Catholic Secretariat, Abba Tesfaghiorghis Kiflom, entitled: “Clarification about the recent nationalisation of the Catholic Church’s health Centres in Eritrea,” the Church leadership says it remains vehemently opposed to the unilateral takeovers.
The nationalisation was done without any dialogue with Church authorities
“Though the Catholic Bishops have expressed their opposition to this measure, they have not yet received any response from the State authorities. On the other hand, some information has been passed on to the Mass Media which, apart from being decidedly erroneous or deliberately misleading, is confusing those who, far and near, are unable to verify its reliability. It is precisely for the benefit of the latter that we consider it our duty to offer the following clarifications and specifications,” the document reads. It continues, “Mr. Tajadin Abedel Aziz, (Eritrean Government) Director of the Public Relations Office in the Ministry of Health, in an interview with Asmara’s correspondent of Radio Voice of America on 12 June 2019 said, against the evidence of facts, (that the nationalisation was) ‘a matter of administrative actions of delivery and not of closure or of nationalisation of the Centres, or of intimidation of staff and employees.’... How then can one define behaviour such as: taking unilateral decisions about our structures and personnel without any previous agreement on the matter, without any notice, without minimum dialogue with the legitimate superior authorities who own those structures, without any attempt to understand the spirit and purpose of such institutions?” the Church contests.
There was a climate of intimidation during the takeovers
The Church contends that it is meaningless to declare that this was not a question of nationalisation. They also point to the intimidation used in taking over the health properties.
“While in some locations actions of force were involved, in other centres the staff were ordered to ‘get out of the way,’ the premises were sealed, and the staff was placed in a position where they were unable to attend to patients … Threatening words and bullying were spoken in various (health) centres. This was observed by people who, unexpectedly, found themselves involved during these deplorable events. When the staff on duty at our clinics were required to sign property transfer of the premises, and legitimately and conscientiously replied that such an act was not of their competence - as they were just mere executors of higher orders, and specified that such an act was the competence of the Church authorities - at this stage the reaction of those making the request was more of intimidation and, sometimes, of blandishment,” the Church statement narrates.
A violation of the fundamental right of religious freedom
The Church in Eritrea says the government’s action is a violation of the fundamental right of religious freedom.
“Often, when issues such as the ones we are now talking about are raised, there is a kind of mantra repeated over and over again: ‘We have not touched religion,” “religious freedom is protected and guaranteed by law,’ ‘Eritrea is a secular state,’ (in Tigrinya: alemawi - secular’); ‘State and religions, Politics and religions are separate realities,’ and so on … It is our firm belief that, with the recent requisition of our clinics, a specific right of our religion has been violated, which prescribes, ‘to love others and to do good to them.’ Any measure that prevents us from fulfilling - within the law and without harming anyone - the obligations that come to us from the supreme commandment of brotherly love is and remains a violation of the fundamental right of religious freedom.
Church condemns misinformation on the crisis
At the same time, the Church in Eritrea has reacted angrily to what it calls misinformation bordering on defamation by a particular Italian journalist/blogger called Edoardo Calcagno who accuses the Eritrean Church health personnel of misusing donor funds meant for health facilities. Calgano quoting unnamed Eritrean sources accused Church-run institutions of diverting donor money to “hospital managers or their family members who used them for absolutely personal purposes.”
“Finally, it must be taken note of, fortunately, isolated, a defamation campaign against the staff employed in the Health Centres of the Catholic Church … The creator of this muck-machine is a certain Edoardo Calcagno, journalist of the (Buongiorno News) “Good Morning News” website. Having compiled information completely bereft of sources and evidence, the journalist carried out an irresponsible act, devoid of the most basic sense of professional ethics. Who is behind him? What interests are at stake?... The very fact that someone like Calcagno, who has the blessing of living in a free and democratic country, has chosen to make such infamous judgments without having listened to the opinion of both sides involved, is in itself an indication of the non-transparent purpose of his work and of his questionable credibility.