A New Wave of Arrests in Eritrea

January 23, 2013 by Open Doors in General

Eritrean Women holding hands, and  praying

Only hours before news of a failed coup attempt in Eritrea broke on Monday, Open Doors learned of a new wave of systematic arrests among Eritrean church leaders. Though it is unclear when the campaign started, at least ten leaders of churches that were banned by the government in 2002 have been rounded up. 

There have been several such campaigns in the past, but church leaders fear that this particular campaign is far more serious because it wants to “eradicate the underground church by targeting its key leaders around the country.” Since news of the renewed arrests emerged, several church leaders have gone into hiding for a second time in recent months. According to trusted sources close to the events in Eritrea, the church leaders have remained in good spirits despite these pressures. 

For Christians in Eritrea, an eastern African country of 4 million that is ranked No. 10 on the Open Doors World Watch List, the past few months have been a roller-coaster ride. Tensions skyrocketed after the death of the Ethiopian Prime Minister in August of last year. Christians testified that talk of renewed fighting between Eritrea and Ethiopia after the demise of one of their long-time rivals led to a very grim atmosphere. 

There were reports of the government circulating rifles to households in case war broke out. Some Christians described those months of uncertainty as their darkest night while praying earnestly for the light of a new dawn for their country.  On the heels of this tense time came the good news in December of the release of 31 Christian students from Mai-Nefhi University, including 14 females, kept at Sawa Military Training Centre since 2006. They were arrested after refusing to participate against their conscience in cultural dancing during Independence Day celebrations. 

The believers later testified that despite the difficulties they faced in the harsh prison conditions, they were never placed in a situation where they were forced to deny their faith. Though some of the women were apparently enticed with release in exchange for sexual favors, none gave in; all remained strong in the faith. 

The rollercoaster ride is now plunging believers back into a world of uncertainty with the recent arrests and the failed coup attempt. Reports indicated that about 100 soldiers marched on the Ministry of Information, and made it as far as the director’s office where they forced him to read a statement on air calling for the release of political prisoners. Then the broadcast signal abruptly cut out. The renegade soldiers were later arrested. 

Reports of the coup came amid speculations that President Afewerki’s health is deteriorating. He has traveled abroad in the past to seek medical attention for a liver condition, but officials refuted these speculations, insisting the 66 year old is in good health. What will be the results of the attempted coup? There are many conjectures; some observers fear that the government will implement even more repressive measures to keep society in check. 

Father, there is much to be thankful for in Eritrea, even in the midst of the present instability. We praise You for the release of the students after they served more than six years in prison for standing firm in their faith. Thank You for the testimony of Your faith in their lives. Strengthen them to remain true whatever comes their way. But we also bring before You the recent wave of arrests and the fear of more following the attempted coup. Satan would use these circumstances to destroy Your church there, but we take heart that even in the midst of persecution You will build her up. Protect Your people; make Your Word burn fiercely within them that they might purpose to serve You, fighting not against earthly enemies, but against “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12) In the name of Jesus who suffered and died that we might live. Amen.

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