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Persecution in Eritrea at Its Highest Level Ever

May 30, 2013 by Open Doors in General


The number of Christians incarcerated in Eritrea is a contentious issue. Open Doors sources estimate the current number at about 1,200, though others put it much higher. When considering the number of prisoners of faith in Eritrea, the following factors regarding the conditions of imprisonment make it difficult to determine.

Earlier this month, Amnesty International (AI) released its report describing widespread human rights abuses by the government. The report documents how the government has been using “arbitrary arrest and detention without trial on a vast scale to crush all actual and suspected opposition, to silence government critics and to punish anyone who refuses to comply with the restrictions on human rights imposed by the government.” The practice, according to the report, started immediately after independence in 1991 and continues until today. The report also documents the abuses faced by members of unregistered religious groups. The government of Eritrea rejected the report.

These arrests bring to 191 the number of Christians apprehended since the beginning of the year. Open Doors has not been notified of any releases and is of the understanding that all are still being kept under very harsh imprisonment conditions, with many suffering from very poor health.

Open Doors learned on Monday, May 27, that authorities arrested 37 Christian students last week from the College of Arts and Social Sciences in the town of Adi Kihe (Adi Keyih), southwest of Asmara. It is understood that the students have been taken to the Dekemhare military camp. Authorities in Asmara also arrested five men from the Church of the Living God last week.

“If I am to describe the situation of religious persecution in Eritrea, I would say it is still at its highest level ever, and getting worse,” an Eritrean Christian leader told Open Doors last week. The leader said the atmosphere in Eritrea remains very tense for Christians as the government continues what has been called their most serious campaign against the church yet.

  • No organization, such as the Red Cross, is allowed into the country to visit detention centers, count prisoners and investigate the conditions under which prisoners are held.
  • As far as we know, none of the religious prisoners in Eritrea have benefitted from any just legal process. They have not been formally charged and we know of no court proceedings in the cases.
  • There are no formal prison records available.
  • A large number of prisoners are arrested while completing national service. Upon “release” these prisoners are simply moved to military centers where they often face prisonlike conditions such as hard labor and no freedom of movement. (These cases are not considered releases.) 
  • In light of Eritrea’s extensive national service program, family members often do not realize that relatives are being imprisoned. It is often only “by chance” that they become aware of the fact that a family member is being incarcerated.
  • There have been several instances where prisoners were released from prison to detention under house arrest. Often such relocations are due to serious health issues and often in cases where death seems imminent. (These cases are not considered releases.)

Local church leadership has told Open Doors they will continue to pray for their government despite the persistent persecution they are facing. Church leaders say they are working hard at living out various biblical obligations including a pastoral obligation to care for church members, a prophetic obligation to continue speaking the truth with the government, and the obligation to obey all authority as long as it does not require sin against God Almighty, who is the highest authority of all. In line with these responsibilities, the church continues to pray for an opportunity to wisely and humbly engage with the government about the issue of religious freedom in Eritrea.

Father, we join the church in Eritrea in praying for opportunities to wisely and humbly engage with the government about religious freedom. Thank You for their continued commitment to serving You in the midst of persecution. Work through the pastors to care for their congregations. Grant courage and wisdom as they speak the truth of Your Word. Protect them and humble their hearts as they seek to honor their nation’s authorities, as long as it does not involve sinning against You. And grant them to know where that line is. For those in prison, grant encouragement, peace of heart, and hope. In the name of Jesus, our presence in the midst of persecution. Amen.

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