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On 1 February, 21 female and 43 male prisoners were released from Mai Serwa and Adi Abeito prisons, close to the capital city, Asmara.

The prisoners had been held without charge or trial for periods of between two and twelve years.

On 27 January, six female prisoners who were detained in September 2020 in Dekemhare, south-east of Asmara, were also released. The women were arrested after worshipping in public as they were walking down a street, an event which was caught on camera and circulated via social media.

Sources: Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Church in Chains

While the releases have been warmly welcomed, there is also speculation that they mark the latest effort by the Eritrean regime to distract international attention from the country’s active role in the ongoing war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, where Eritrean troops have been accused of violence which may amount to crimes against humanity, war crimes and possibly genocide.

The releases also coincide with reports that have emerged consistently since December 2020 of thousands of refugees being forcibly returned to Eritrea from two camps in Tigray, many of whom were allegedly detained. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, approximately 20,000 refugees from Hitsat and Shimelba camps are currently missing. Neither camp is currently accessible; in January 2021 satellite imagery revealed that both had been extensively and deliberately destroyed.

Around 3,000 former residents of Shimelba and Hitsat have reportedly managed to reach Mai Aini, one of the two remaining camps for Eritrean refugees in Tigray.

Citing eyewitnesses he met during a recent visit to Mai Aini, the High Commissioner said many refugees appear to have been “caught in crossfire, abducted and forced to return to Eritrea under duress by Eritrean forces.”

Let us pray.

  • Praise God for the release of these prisoners. Ask the Lord to minister to them and their families as they adjust to life outside of prison.
  • Ask the Lord to grant wisdom and benevolence to the Eritrean authorities. Pray for an end to the violence.
  • Pray the Lord will care for, protect and provide for those who are caught up in the unrest.