Eritrea remains one of the worst countries in the world for Christian persecution. Imprisoned Christians are tortured, starved and forced into hard labour. Conditions are worse for pastors and theological students who are singled out for beatings or have their jail terms extended as a warning to others. Many Christians are held indefinitely, often without trial, not knowing when they will be released. Some are kept in shipping containers, where they are exposed to the searing desert heat by day and cold by night.
By 22 September 2020, the government, apparently as part of its Covid-19 control measures, had released 69 Christian prisoners, most of whom had been held for over ten years without trial, some for as long as 16 years. The releases were made on condition that bail securities were lodged, usually in the form of property deeds, with guarantors held liable for the detainees’ future actions. None of the known imprisoned pastors or senior Christian leaders were among those released.
A number of the releases were from Mai Serwa, a notorious high-security military detention facility, near the capital, Asmara, which is known to put detainees in underground cells and metal shipping containers. At the time of writing, there are thought to be about 300 Christians still in detention, including children.
Only three Christian denominations – Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Lutheran – as well as Sunni Islam (half the population are Muslim) are legally permitted by Eritrea’s Marxist government, but official status does not guarantee freedom from intimidation. During 2019, authorities shut down 21 health centres run by a registered church denomination and ordered the closure of seven Christian schools.
Tens of thousands of Christians have fled Eritrea, many seeking refuge in Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda and Israel.
Ask the Lord to strengthen Christians and bring healing and restoration to those released from prison, especially those who have no home to return to. Pray that the hearts of the authorities will soften to release more imprisoned Christians and allow believers of all denominations to worship freely.
The above content can also be found in the Praying for the Persecuted Church (2021-2022) booklet