Christians in Eritrea live in constant danger. The country has been ruled by a repressive Marxist government since gaining independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year war, and religious freedom is severely curtailed. Only three Christian denominations are legally permitted and non-registered groups, which are considered a threat to the state, are severely persecuted.
Christians are subject to arbitrary arrest and detention. Those arrested are rarely formally charged and are not permitted to practise their faith in prison, whilst Bibles and all Christian literature are banned. There may be as many as 3,000 religious prisoners, most of whom are Christians, detained in Eritrea’s notorious prison system, where abuse and torture are widespread; some have been confined in crowded 20-foot shipping containers, subject to extreme temperatures, while a number have been detained for more than ten years. Prisoners who have been released have reported being pressured to renounce their faith or sign statements that they will cease religious activities and no longer meet to worship.
Registered churches are required to submit regular reports of their activities to the authorities and the government itself appointed the national leader of the largest denomination, following the arrest of his predecessor. Authorities have withheld supplies of water and other utilities to Christians known to be part of non-registered churches. Thousands of Christians have fled the country to escape persecution, although in doing so they put themselves at grave risk of exploitation and kidnap at the hands of human traffickers, as they attempt to reach safety.