The Eritrean security forces continue to crack down on the country’s Christians through the use of mass arrests and other intimidation tactics.
Over the past few days, it has been reported that as many as 30 believers have been detained in the capital of Asmara, at various different locations.
Police officers continue to carry out “continuous raids in private homes where devotees of unrecognized religions, especially Pentecostal Christians, meet for community prayer,” reads a local report, cited by Christian persecution watchdog, Open Doors USA. “They are released only if they disavow their faith.”
The Eritrean government authorities continue to demand “full control” of all the Church-run organizations and initiatives in the country, such as private schools, medical clinics and orphanages.
In 2002, the current President, Isaias Afwerki, declared that all independent Protestant Churches were official “enemies of the state.”
Over the past few decades, Eritrean authorities have been frequently arresting church leaders and detaining them in squalid conditions like old shipping containers. Holed up in these dank makeshift cells, advocates say the oppressed Christians are “routinely deprived of water, food, proper sanitation and medicines,” according to Fredrick Nzwili at Religion News Service.
“The roundup traces to a 2002 law that permits the operation of only a handful of religious groups: Orthodox Christian, Evangelical Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches, along with Sunni Islam,” Nzwilli added. “Since then, the government has cracked down on evangelical and Pentecostal churches, which are seen as foreign-influenced threats to security and Eritrean autonomy.”
The ‘North Korea of Africa’
The latest police action comes less than two weeks after police detained some 140 Christians as they celebrated their Independence Day from Ethiopia.
According to British-based Christian persecution watchdog, Release International, the group was rounded up by secret police as they gathered to worship.
“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.”
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.”
Do continue to pray for all those who continue to face oppression because of their faith in Christ.