There are reports from Eritrea that the government has released 27 Christian prisoners of faith, and hopes are rising that more could follow.
A trusted contact of Release International (Voice of the Martyrs, UK) says the government has just set free 27 prisoners, most of whom have been behind bars for more than ten years. They have yet to be named. There are believed to be 19 men and eight women, who were jailed at Mai Serwa prison, close to the capital Asmara. They were released, 8 September , and on 3 September.
There are indications that other Christian prisoners at the jail have been informed they could soon be set free.
This follows the release of 22 Methodist prisoners in July from another prison, mainly women and children.
Prisoners of faith
There are believed to be around 500 Christian prisoners of faith in Eritrea, many imprisoned indefinitely under appalling conditions.
In August, Eritrea announced it was releasing some Pentecostal Christians, among others, in a move to prevent the spread of coronavirus in its overcrowded jails. The 27 just released are believed to be the first to be allowed to leave.
According to the Eritrean media, Adi Abeto prison, designed to hold 800, had 2,500 inmates, and 500 prisoners were forced to share only 20 toilets at Mai Serwa maximum-security prison.
‘We are encouraged by the news of this release of Christian prisoners,’ says Paul Robinson, the Chief Executive of Release International, a British-based charity which supports persecuted Christians. ‘And we hope others will follow.
‘Our prayers are that this may signal a change of heart in a regime which outlawed many churches in 2002 and has been persecuting and imprisoning Christians ever since. The time has come to let these people go.
‘As for the 27 Christians who have been set free from jail, they are still not free to leave Eritrea. Some have been behind bars for so long that they have become completely institutionalised. They will need help and support.’
A Release contact described his reaction to the news as bittersweet: ‘All those wasted years! They have been kept like wild animals in a cage.’
Eritrea, which is ruled by a military dictatorship, has been described as the North Korea of Africa. Some 12 per cent of the population have fled the country, according to UNHCR. Tens of thousands have risked death from drowning to escape to Italy.
Eritrea keeps a tight control over religion. In 2002, Eritrea outlawed every religion except Sunni Islam, Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholicism and the Lutheran Church.
The authorities shut down many Evangelical and Pentecostal churches and have kept the patriarch of the Orthodox Church under house arrest since January 2007.
Enemies of the state
Registered churches come under tight government control. And Christians who worship in unregistered churches are regarded as enemies of the state.
Estimates of the number of Christian prisoners of faith in the country range from 3,000 down to 300. Release contacts put the figure at close to 500. Many Christian prisoners have been detained for decades.
Some Christian prisoners are kept in shipping containers, where they are exposed to the searing desert heat by day and cold by night. Some are beaten and tortured to try to force them to renounce their faith.
Most Christian prisoners are believed to be Pentecostal or Evangelical. Many have been held for more than a decade. The prison authorities ban praying aloud, singing, preaching or reading religious books.
Eritrea’s constitution declares: ‘No person may be discriminated against on account of… religion.’ But a UN human rights commission noted attacks on Protestants and Pentecostals were ‘part of a diligently planned policy of the government’.
‘Full religious freedom’
Release International has repeatedly called on Eritrea to free its Christian prisoners and permit full religious freedom. In 2006, Release International and others submitted a petition to this effect signed by more than 110,000 people.
Says Paul Robinson: ‘Release is once again calling on Eritrea to set free every Christian prisoner and permit freedom of faith once again in their country.’
Through its international network of missions, Release International is active in some 25 countries around the world, supporting pastors, Christian prisoners and their families; supplying Christian literature and Bibles, and working for justice.
Eritrean authorities continued their crackdown on unregistered religious groups when 30 guests were arrested at a wedding ceremony in late June. These Christians were arrested in the capital city of Asmara, joining 15 others who were previously arrested in April and sent to a prison camp.
The government of Eritrea is known as one of the most oppressive in the world, notorious for its arbitrary arrests and detention of people – without a trial. Last year alone, between May and August, more than 330 Christians were arrested.
Since religious restrictions were instituted in 2002, only four religious groups are legally allowed by the government: Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Sunni Islam. Membership in any other group is strictly prohibited, and even members of these legally recognised groups are not necessarily immune from harassment.
Sources: Release Eritrea, Barnabas Fund
- Remember the hundreds of believers presently imprisoned in Eritrea; some of them already having endured many years of inhumane treatment in terrible conditions.
- Pray that these prisoners and their families will be provided with inner strength as they undergo such severe trials.
- Pray those in authority will come to respect the rights of all citizens, including the freedom to worship.
Post your prayer in the comments below.
Conditions in Eritrea continue to deteriorate despite a peace treaty signed with Ethiopia earlier this year that earned Ethiopia’s president, an evangelical Christian, the Nobel Peace Prize.
“The country is becoming worse and worse,” an Eritrean Christian said. “[There is] no electricity, little internet connection, the economy is bad and people are suffering. All phone calls are being monitored closely.”
There are currently 600 Christians in prison in Eritrea and about 47 children of Christians left without adult caretakers. “Many people are thinking of leaving,” another Christian said. “Our families are in deep suffering in here.”
Imprisoned Christians are not given a trial or allowed to see their families, many of whom do not know where their loved ones are imprisoned or even if they are still alive. Christians simply disappear and are assumed to be in government prisons. These prisoners of faith are sent to the strictest and most remote prisons. The conditions inside these prisons are some of the harshest in the world. The Christian prisoners are provided meagre rations, treated very poorly and, in some prisons, sometimes held in shipping containers in extreme desert conditions for years.
Source: The Voice of the Martyrs USA
- Pray for Eritrean Christians that they will not be come weary or lose heart.
- Ask God to strengthen and uphold believers who are currently in prison. Pray the Lord will provide for and protect the children of imprisoned believers.
- Pray Christian prisoners will have contact with other believers for fellowship and encouragement.
Post your prayer in the comments below.
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
- Ask the Lord to strengthen the resolve of His children in Eritrea to love, serve and follow Him even through great trials and suffering.
- Ask God to uphold and aid those who have been detained. Pray for their release. Pray for those responsible for their imprisonment.
- Pray He will pour out His Spirit and grow His church throughout this nation, in spite of the danger and severe restrictions.
Post your prayer in the comments below.
On 9 July 2018, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki (president since 1993) signed a “declaration of peace and friendship” and declared the “state of war” officially over.
President Afwerki had long used the ‘Ethiopian threat’ as a pretext to justify his regime’s violent and repressive dictatorship and the need for indefinite National (military) Service. Consequently, many hoped that peace would pave the way for reform and especially improvements in human rights.
When President Afwerki addressed the nation on Independence Day, 24 May 2019, he spoke of the need for stability and security, stressing “patience” and ruling out “hasty and emotional conclusions,” dashing any lingering hopes for reform.
Meanwhile, thousands of prisoners of conscience remain incarcerated. Some key leaders have been detained for over a decade, such as the chair of the Eritrean Evangelical Alliance, Dr Kiflu Gebremeskel, who has been held incommunicado, without charge or trial since his arrest in May 2004.
Eritrea’s human rights remain among the worst in the world and Eritreans continue to flee en masse. To prevent protests as the nation prepared to celebrate Independence Day, the regime deployed police and soldiers to the streets of Asmara and raided several Protestant groups. On 10 May, 141 Christians, including 14 minors, were arrested as they gathered in north-east Asmara; 50 were subsequently released. A further 30 Christians were arrested on 17 May in gatherings in south-west Asmara. Conditions in detention are horrendous; torture is routine.
Sources: Christian Faith and Freedom, Release International
- Pray that the brutal regime in Eritrea will crumble; through the active desire of the Eritrean people for liberty and through the work of the Holy Spirit.
- Ask God to preserve and sustain the long-suffering church in Eritrea.
- Pray for those who remain in prison. Ask the Lord for their release. Pray for continued physical, emotional and spiritual strength they need to endure.
Post your prayer for Eritrea in the comments below.