A group of 141 Christians have been detained after gathering to worship and mark their Independence Day.
According to British-based Christian persecution watchdog, Release International, the group was set upon by secret police in the latest in a series of crackdowns on the religious minority.
“Eritrea has been branded ‘the North Korea of Africa,'” the charity noted in its report. “Tens of thousands have risked death from drowning to escape to Italy. Others have fled to Sudan or Ethiopia. One in 12 has fled the country. And many of those are Christians.”
A radio report by Release featured an interview with a Eritrean refugee who has himself been a victim of persecution at the hands of government forces.
“My name is Dawit. I am a Christian from Eritrea,” he said. “But now I am living in this refugee camp in Ethiopia. Eritrea is under a dictatorship. There is no law and no justice. When I was living in Eritrea I was arrested because of my Christian faith.”
After spending a month in prison, Dawit said he was sent to a labor camp, where he was expected to work for no pay. “I was also detained for two weeks, when I was tortured,” he said.
How heavily persecuted is Eritrea?
Eritrea, though relatively underreported, is one of the most restrictive places on earth in which to live as a Christian. Open Doors USA ranks the East African nation as the seventh most persecuted country in the world.
“Christians are being forced to join the armed forces, and Protestants, in particular, face serious problems with accessing community resources, especially social services provided by the state,” the charity notes in a fact-sheet.
“Both converts from a Muslim background and cross-denominational converts from an Orthodox background encounter harsh mistreatment from their families and communities.”
The Eritrean government has been at the center of a widespread human rights crisis in recent years, detaining any person who dares disagree with the ruling party. Though a peace deal with neighboring Ethiopia has helped, the population still remains in the grip of the totalitarian government.
“The Eritrean Government continues to lock up or forcibly disappear dissenting voices, thus silencing analytical discussions and critical debates,” the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea told the United Nations General Assembly last October.
“Without any space for the Eritrean people to participate in shaping the country’s future, there is little scope for progress,” Sheila B. Keetharuth added in a report. “Human rights must be put at the heart of peace.”
How can you pray?
Well, Deborah, an Eritrean refugee, detailed specific prayer requests in remarks made to Release, asking “for protection for us as we share our faith under enormous pressure.”
“Pray for wisdom and for the Holy Spirit to lead us. Pray for Christian prisoners that God would strengthen their faith while in jail,” she said.
“Pray too for good health in spite of the terrible conditions and that they would be released soon. Pray for the church here to be strong in faith, not to be in fear but to keep on declaring the kingdom of God and sharing the gospel with others. Pray for justice to come to Eritrea.”