Fourteen Christians have been released by the authorities in Eritrea after four years of incarceration in Dahlak Island Prison on the Red Sea.
A Barnabas contact said the men are believed to be the last to be freed from a group of 66 Christians detained at the same time. The authorities claimed one of the original group, called Fitsum, died two years ago from illness, but the cause of death has not been verified independently.
The reason for the latest releases is not known; however, Eritrean church leader Dr. Berhane Asmelash told Barnabas that it is thought the Christian men will be forced to join the army. Forced conscription into the Eritrean armed forces is greatly feared, not least because the compulsory military service can last for many years, even decades.
The men’s release came shortly after authorities freed on April 11 all but one of 23 Christians arrested at a prayer meeting in the capital, Asmara, toward the end of March. The Christian denied release still remains in prison.
It is thought 129 Christians are being detained in Eritrea’s jails, often enduring inhumane and brutal conditions; however, the exact figure is not known.
Eritrea remains one of the worst countries in the world for Christian persecution, where conditions are so harsh for believers that it is described by some as Africa’s North Korea. Since the introduction of religious registration policies in 2002, only three Christian denominations are legally permitted – Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Lutheran – as well as Sunni Islam.