Christian persecution in Africa and the Middle East is, sadly, nothing new, but recent reports from human rights organizations about the treatment of evangelical Christians in Eritrea are alarming. According to Mission News Network, entire families—including children—are being arrested and held in inhumane conditions as part of a new government crackdown.
“Since May of this year, nearly 200 Christians have been arrested. The interesting thing about this — they have shifted tactics… Instead of just raiding church services or Bible studies, now the government is going to the homes of Christians, and they’re arresting the whole family,” Todd Nettleton of Voice of the Martyrs USA told Mission Network News. “Even children have been put under arrest if they’re part of a Christian family.”
In November, 16 students were taken into custody by officials for praying, and children are often rounded up along with they parents.
“Even as bad as it was, this seems like even a step further in the persecution of Christians—to arrest even children who are involved in Christian activities,” Nettleton lamented.
As the Christian Post reported, roughly half of the Eritrean population is Christian, but the country imposes strict guidelines on how religion can be practiced. The north African nation ranks tenth on the Open Doors World Watch List for persecution because the “regime is absolutely authoritarian and intolerant towards any form of association, dissent, and free expression.”
Christians can worship at the Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Eritrean Catholic Church, or the Evangelical Lutheran Church, but no other churches or meeting places are tolerated.
“The Evangelical Church has been outlawed in Eritrea by the government,” Nettleton said. “Any kind of public church meetings are illegal, other than those in the approved denominations by the government.”
Even state sanctioned schools and places of worship have found themselves under fire as of late. According to the Christian Post, a major Catholic and Islamic school were recently targeted because the government “appears obsessed with controlling every aspect of the lives of its citizens.”
While the conditions in prison are dire—captives are known to held spaces that lack plumping, clean air, and proper heating/cooling systems—Christians in the country are continuing to practice their faith without fear.
“The Church continues to meet. And one of the amazing things about the Eritrean Church is that they continue to serve the Lord, they continue to meet together for worship. The churches that were closed moved almost immediately into a house church, underground church type of activity,” Nettleton said. “They are sharing the Gospel. They are seeing other people won to Christ. And that’s really an amazing example of faithfulness to the call of Christ, even in really horrific circumstances.”
(H/T: The Christian Post)