|Some Eritrean Christians are imprisoned in
metal shipping containers
Incarcerated in metal shipping containers with extreme temperature changes; forbidden to pray aloud, sing, preach or have a Bible; tortured to make them recant their faith. These are some of the extremely harsh conditions that thousands of Christians in Eritrea are experiencing in prison. Some have died under torture or because they were denied medical care. The country is ranked among the world’s worst persecutors of Christians.
Many Christians have been detained in mass arrests for being part of a congregation or attending a prayer meeting. The majority are held without formal charges or sentences and cannot have legal counsel or see their families. On 3 July 2012 35 Christians in Assab were arrested for gathering for worship. They were taken to the Adi-Nefase camp, where conditions are notoriously harsh. Christians conscripted to serve as soldiers in the army can be imprisoned for attending prayer meetings and receive severe punishments even for possessing a Bible.
The mass arrests are a consequence of the fact that many Christian groups are illegal in Eritrea. The government of Eritrea regards Christians as a threat to national unity because they give their ultimate allegiance to God. The state-controlled media characterises evangelicals as imperialistic groups that promote religious intolerance amongst the people. Only three denominations are officially recognised, but even these are heavily controlled by the government.
The government decreed in 2002 that all non-recognised religious groups must apply for registration, but since then none has been granted legal status, even though several have submitted all the required documents. Some had been active in Eritrea for decades but had their churches closed and are now forbidden from undertaking any Christian activities.
Many Christians have fled to nearby countries such as Ethiopia, South Sudan and Egypt to escape persecution. Every month hundreds make the arduous journey across the Sinai desert to seek safety and freedom in Israel. Some die along the way; others are shot dead at the border; still others are taken hostage for ransom by nomads; and those who are caught may be sent back to Eritrea. Those who claim asylum in Egypt may be thrown into prison, while others end up in the hands of traffickers. They can suffer rape, harassment, torture, beatings or even slavery.