At least 150 Eritrean Christians have been arrested by government officials during the last two months, with some of them held in an underground prison.
The most recent arrests occurred on 18 August when Eritrean security officials detained 80 Christians from Godayef, an area near the airport of the capital, Asmara. They were taken to a police station and have been held there ever since.
The Eritrean government’s current clampdown on Christians began on 23 June when Eritrean security officials arrested 70 members of the Faith Mission Church of Christ in Keren. The church’s members – among them 35 women and 10 children – were taken to Ashufera prison, 25kms from the city.
The prison is a vast underground tunnel system and the conditions in which the detainees are held are very harsh, according to a local source.
Its location far from a main road, the source said, “means that anyone who wants to visit loved ones there will have to walk a minimum of 30 minutes to reach the entrance. Inmates are forced to dig additional tunnels when officers need extra space for more prisoners.”
After the arrests, the government officials also closed the church-run school, said the local source. The Faith Mission Church of Christ was the last church still open in the majority-Muslim city 90kms north-west of Asmara. It was established more than 60 years ago and once had schools and orphanages all over the country. It had been waiting for registration since it applied in 2002 when the government introduced a new law that forbids all churches except for the Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran Churches, as well as Sunni Islam.
On 16 August, six Christians, also from Keren and who were government employees, were taken to a court in Asmara where the judge told them to renounce their faith. The six responded by saying they would “not negotiate their faith” and would “continue following Jesus”, the source said. “Reportedly, the judge angrily told them to leave while he considers the next steps. They don’t know when to expect his decision.”
The government clampdown has sent other Christians in Keren into hiding. It follows the government’s June seizure of all Catholic-run health clinics in the country, and the arrest of five Orthodox priests.
Earlier this month, Eritrea’s Orthodox patriarch, Abune Antonios, was expelled by pro-government bishops of his church on accusations of heresy. Antonios had been under house arrest since 2007, when he refused to comply with the regime’s attempts to interfere with church affairs.
Sources: World Watch Monitor, Christians Solidarity Worldwide
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