Single women have become the latest target of a widespread arrest campaign against Evangelical Christians in Eritrea. Over the past two weeks, authorities in two separate incidents took fourteen single Christian women into custody for continuing religious activities outside of the authorized religious institutions. The exact dates of the arrests are unknown.
In the first incident, authorities arrested nine single young female students at Sawa Academic Centre, which doubles as a military training center, near the Sudanese border. Along with scores of other Eritreans, they face incarceration in stifling metal shipping containers, overcrowded cells and dungeons.
Officials arrested another five women in Debarewa, a small town located about 18 miles south of Asmara. Security officers rounded up the women from their homes after being informed that the women are Evangelical Christians. The women are believed to be imprisoned at a police station in town.
Eritrean sources believe these latest arrests followed the government’s recent call at the National Women’s Association conference for attendees to use all possible means to stop the influence of Evangelicals.
In 1998, the government of Eritrea ordered all religious groups apart from the Orthodox Church, Catholic Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church and Islam to register. In May 2002 the state closed all churches that did not apply for registration. The closures ushered in a time of persecution for Christians belonging to these closed churches.
Church leaders estimate that around 1,500 Christians are currently imprisoned in harrowing conditions, never having been formally charged. The latest arrests bring the number of Christians arrested since the beginning of the year to 205. Sources have informed Open Doors that they are particularly concerned for the more than 37 students arrested from the College of Science in Adi Kihe in May. They remain imprisoned at the military camp in Dekemhare and are reportedly being tortured. They are also facing inadequate food, sanitation and medical care.
Christians also fear for the life of 85-year-old Mama Hajer who was arrested in February. She is still in a metal shipping container at Mai Serwa military training camp despite suffering from pneumonia. Our sources told us that she is “bravely refusing to denounce her faith in Christ in exchange for urgent medical attention.”
The government is coupling its arrest campaign with extensive propaganda against Evangelical Christians. Open Doors has been informed that the government regularly incites the population against Evangelicals through national media, accusing them of acting as agents for foreign groups intent on undermining the Eritrean nation.
“The situation in Eritrea remains desperate for Evangelical Christians. The antagonism of authorities in Eritrea towards Evangelical Christians in the country is heightening in many ways,” explained a church leader who remains anonymous for security reasons.
Open Doors has learned that in the space of one year authorities have confiscated more than 1,500 Bibles and burned them. The number of Eritrean Christians fleeing the country to escape the on-going hostility and persecution has increased significantly, and those caught face severe punishment. One pastor told Open Doors, “I love my country Eritrea. We all labored for her independence. But, I will not stop speaking about the suffering of my people… The current situation is worse than [the difficulties we suffered before independence]. The younger generation has left the country. Endless military service and continued threats by security agents make life very difficult for them. Although all Eritreans suffer, the situation for believers is the worst.”
Despite the persecution, sources say Christians persevere in worshiping the Lord and gathering for prayer and Bible study. The Church is even reportedly growing despite the circumstances. The pastor, who chose to remain anonymous, added, “The persecution in Eritrea is a sweet and bitter providence of God. The number of people [from all walks of life] who are receiving Christ attests to the fact that our suffering is God’s strategy to have the Good News of Jesus Christ proclaimed to the Eritrean population through the suffering of the nation’s Christians. I see Philippians 1:12-14 as being fulfilled in Eritrea through our suffering. This indeed is our great comfort and source of strength to keep going until the Lord brings all our sufferings to an end.”
Father, we lift before You our sisters in prison in Eritrea; grant them grace and courage while in custody, and protect others from arrest. We also pray for those who are in prison for their faith in Christ, and call onto You to sustain them. In particular, we pray today for the students who are being held in a military camp and are reportedly being tortured, and for 85-year-old Mama Hajer. Father we are on our knees asking that You provide them comfort, hope and Your wonderful presence as they suffer for Your namesake. May Christ be glorified by their testimony, and may Your Kingdom grow in the midst of these difficult circumstances. In the name of Jesus, who has already obtained the victory, Amen.