SANTA ANA, Calif. (Jan. 22, 2013) – Only hours before news of a failed coup attempt in Eritrea hit the news on Monday, Open Doors learned of a new wave of systematic arrest of church leaders in Eritrea. It is not clear exactly when the campaign started, but at least 10 leaders of churches 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 systematic arrests emerged, several church leaders have gone into hiding for a second time in only a few months. According to trusted sources close to the events in Eritrea, church leaders have remained in good spirits despite these pressures.
For Christians in Eritrea, an eastern African country of 4 million, the past few months have been a somewhat of a roller-coaster ride. After the death of the Ethiopian Prime Minister in August last year, there was heightened tension in Eritrea. 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.
These tensions were then followed in December by the news of the release of 31 Christian students kept at Sawa Military Training Centre since 2006. The group of students from Mai-Nefhi University included 14 females. 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. Some of the women were apparently enticed with release in exchange for sexual favors. None gave in, but remained strong in the faith.
In the media there were mixed reactions to the failed coup attempt. Reports indicated that about 100 soldiers marched on the Ministry of Information, made it as far as the director’s office and forced him to read a statement on air calling for the release of political prisoners. Then the broadcast signal abruptly cut out. It is believed that the soldiers may have briefly taken hostage the president’s daughter, Elsa, who apparently works in the Ministry of Information. The president of Eritrea is Isaias Afewerkie.
However, the New York Times reported that troops loyal to the government were able to beat the coup-attempting soldiers back. The renegade soldiers were later arrested.
Reports of the coup came amid speculations that President Afewerki’s health is worsening. He has traveled abroad in the past to seek medical attention for a liver condition, but official information services refuted these speculations, insisting the 66 year old was in good health.
Reports of the coup were met by mixed reactions. Some observers fear even more repressive measures by the government to keep society in check.
“Eritrea is ranked No. 10 on the Open Doors World Watch List which was released two weeks ago,” Open Doors USA spokesman Jerry Dykstra stated. “Open Doors research reported 31 Christians died in Eritrean prisons in 2012. Eritrean Christians value our prayers as their circumstances remain uncertain.”
Christians are persecuted for their faith in at least 60 countries worldwide. They suffer interrogation, arrest and even death in some of the most dangerous and restrictive countries in the world. For 58 years Open Doors has supported and strengthened believers worldwide through Bible and Christian literature distribution, leadership training and assistance, Christian community development and prayer and presence ministry. To partner with Open Doors USA, call toll free at 888-5-BIBLE-5 (888-524-2535) or go to our Website at www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.
(For more information or to set up an interview, contact Jerry Dykstra at 616-915-4117 or email [email protected])