President Isaias Afwerki
Despite almost half the population identifying as Christian, believers in Eritrea continue to suffer extreme persecution, making it still one of the hardest places in the world to follow Jesus.
The government recognizes only three denominations—Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran. Those not part of these groups are at risk of severe persecution at the hands of the state. Gatherings are raided and believers arrested. The conditions facing Christians in prison can be inhumane. Some pastors have been incarcerated for over a decade and have faced solitary confinement. There are possibly more than 1,000 Christians imprisoned in Eritrea, with none formally charged. While some are released, many of these are moved to military service—which is no freedom at all—or house arrest. The ongoing detention of Christians shows that the government has no intention of relaxing its repressive policies.
Christians not recognized by the state are especially vulnerable to the everyday surveillance imposed by the state, with phone calls monitored, bandwidth kept slow and a network of citizens tasked with spying on their neighbors. This intrusive level of monitoring has led to Eritrea holding the infamous title of “Africa’s North Korea” (The Economist, Aug. 14, 2018).
Meanwhile, converts from Islam and the Eritrean Orthodox Church face harsh mistreatment from their families and communities.
Shiden was imprisoned for more than a decade—simply for worshiping Jesus. He was arrested with 40 other people when he was caught during a secret worship service. He has been very damaged by the experience, but thankfully he is now improving.
“I will serve the Lord until I die; I want to serve the Lord for the rest of my days; I want to be a hero of the faith, too, and one day in the future claim the crown of righteousness that is laid up for me, which the Lord will award to me on that day.”
Very little has changed, except for a slight increase in pressure on churches. The country remains sixth on the World Watch List, making it still one of the hardest places in the world to follow Jesus.
Whereas persecution by the state affects Christians across Eritrea, other forms of opposition are more localized. The western and eastern parts of the country are majority Muslim, while the central areas are more Christian Orthodox. Christians from Muslim or Orthodox backgrounds living in those particular regions are more susceptible to persecution.
Open Doors works through local church partners in Eritrea to provide discipleship training, economic empowerment projects and persecution survival training.