Eritrea remains one of the worst countries in the world for Christian persecution. At the time of writing, hundreds of Christians are detained in the north-east African country’s notorious jails. 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, sometimes without trial, not knowing when they will be released. Among them is Twen, a Christian arrested in 2005 at the age of 22 at a New Year’s night vigil with Christian friends. She has been beaten and tortured in jail, even taking punishment for a sick fellow-prisoner. Twen was offered her freedom, if she recanted her faith. But she refused.
A new series of arbitrary arrests took place in 2019, with 332 Christians rounded up. Of these, 141 – including 104 women and 14 children – were detained at a house church meeting in the capital, Asmara, in May. In a raid on 23 June, pregnant woman were among 70 Christians arrested at an unregistered church in Keren city.
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.
Hundreds of Christians have fled Eritrea. Latest figures put the number of Christian families sheltering in camps in Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda at 2,750, while some 30,000 are in Israel. An Eritrean Christian said, “The country is becoming worse and worse. Many people have left … many are thinking of leaving. Our families are in deep suffering.”
Ask the Lord to strengthen Christians in Eritrea so they know that neither hardship nor persecution can separate them from the love of Jesus Christ. Pray that the hearts of the authorities will soften to allow believers to worship freely. Ask that Christians who have fled will find safe havens.