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Last Updated: Monday, 22 October 2007, 16:20 GMT 17:20 UK
Asylum for Eritrean gospel singer
Eritrean Gospel singer Helen Berhane
Helen Berhane was arrested after recording an album in 2004
An Eritrean Christian gospel singer who was tortured and detained without charge for two years in her homeland has been granted asylum in Denmark.

Helen Berhane was imprisoned inside a metal shipping container and beaten in an effort to make her recant her faith.

Freed in December 2006, she took refuge in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, before being granted asylum.

Ms Berhane uses a wheelchair because of severe injuries to her legs and feet sustained in prison beatings.

More than 90% of Eritreans belong to one of four recognised religions - Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran Churches and Islam.

All other religions were outlawed by a government decree passed in May 2001, though Jehovah's Witnesses had been denied their rights as Eritrean citizens as early as 1994.

Helen Berhane is a member of the unregistered Rema Church and had just released a cassette of gospel music when she was arrested in the Eritrean capital on 13 May 2004.

She was one of an estimated 2,000 members of illegal evangelical church groups in Eritrea who have been arrested in recent years, according to the human rights group Amnesty International.

Arbitrary detention

After an international campaign, she was released in December 2006 and fled with her sister to Sudan, fearing she could be killed to cover up what had happened to her at the Mai Serwa prison camp near Asmara.

Among the tortures she endured was the infamous "helicopter" position, in which the prisoner is placed face down with arms and legs tied behind the back.

Her account of the cruel and inhumane treatment she suffered is echoed by the testimony of hundreds of others persecuted for their religious beliefs.

Prisoners say they are routinely subjected to extremes of heat and cold, denied water and sanitation, according to testimony collected from exiles by Release Eritrea, an organisation that campaigns for the rights of religious minorities.

Ms Berhane's daughter, Eva, who joined her in Khartoum, accompanied her to Copenhagen where the two were greeted by campaigners and well-wishers on Friday.

Dr Berhane Asmelash, Director of Release Eritrea, said: "We are relieved that Helen and Eva are finally safe and would like to thank everyone who has supported them."

"We hope that Helen will now have the peace and space to recover her health and rebuild her life."

Initially Helen Berhane applied to the United Kingdom for asylum and was interviewed by immigration officials at the British High Commission in Khartoum in January 2007.

Seven months later, with no decision on her case by the British, Ms Berhane sought help from Denmark which took one month to determine that she was a genuine asylum seeker.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide's Chief Executive, Mervyn Thomas, said: "We are thrilled that Helen has now finally found refuge for herself and her daughter after so many years of suffering."

"We cannot forget, however, that 2000 other Christians still languish in Eritrean detention centres simply for holding on to their faith," Mr Thomas said.

Eritrean crackdown on religions
07 Dec 05 |  Africa
Country profile: Eritrea
16 Jul 04 |  Country profiles

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