Eritrea: Severe Persecution Needs God's Intervention

By: Elizabeth Kendal

Eritrea is a highly repressive totalitarian state with an estimated 20,000 political prisoners. In September 2001 President Isaias Afewerki launched a campaign of severe repression. He banned foreign journalists, closed independent media and arrested and 'disappeared' hundreds of critics, including journalists and politicians.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 034 | Wed 09 Dec 2009

ERITREA: SEVERE PERSECUTION NEEDS GOD'S INTERVENTION                  

Eritrea is a highly repressive totalitarian state with an estimated 20,000 political prisoners. In September 2001 President Isaias Afewerki launched a campaign of severe repression. He banned foreign journalists, closed independent media and arrested and 'disappeared' hundreds of critics, including journalists and politicians. The repressive and violent political situation has generated a refugee crisis. Some 66,000 largely forgotten Eritreans are stuck in refugee camps in eastern Sudan and according to the UN High Commission for Refugees they continue to arrive at the rate of 1,800 a month.

Eritrea is half Muslim (mostly Sunni) and half Christian (mostly Oriental Orthodox). In May 2002 the regime banned all religion except state-approved Islam, Eritrean (Oriental) Orthodox, Roman Catholicism and Lutheranism. The banned mission churches, independent fellowships and Protestants account for some 20,000 believers. In January 2006, the regime forcefully took over the administration of the Eritrean Orthodox Church (EOC) and arrested those who protested. There is a renewal movement inside the EOC known as 'Medhane Alem' and dozens of its leaders also have been arrested, accused of heresy. Because Eritrea has absolutely no freedom of expression and no independent media, information on the persecuted church can only be leaked out at great personal risk.

Today some 3,000 Eritrean Christians are imprisoned for their faith. Some are in underground and solitary cells whilst some are in 'secret' prisons for the 'disappeared'. However, most are herded into unventilated shipping containers in the desert where dysentery and infectious diseases go untreated. Torture is routine. (See http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AFR64/003/2004 ) Several Christians have died while refusing to renounce their faith, with three so far this year. Most recently, Open Doors reported that Yemane Kahasay Andom (43) died at Mitire Military Confinement Centre on 23 July. Andom was a member of the Ethiopian Baptist Kale-Hiwot Church (literally 'breath of life') linked with SIM. For 18 months he steadfastly refused to sign the 'recantation form'. Weakened by continual torture and weeks of solitary confinement in an underground cell, Andom died of malaria.

On 5 December Eritrean authorities arrested 30 mostly elderly Christian women who were praying together in a house in the capital, Asmara. According to International Christian Concern, most of the detainees are members of Faith Mission Church, an evangelical church with a Methodist background. It had been active in evangelism and development activities in Eritrea for over five decades until 2002 when it was forced to go underground.

After years of advocacy, Eritrea has finally been scrutinised at the UN, partly for its appalling human rights record, but mostly for its criminality and support of regional instability. Not only is Eritrea providing arms to the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab in Somalia, but according to reports is the conduit for Iran supplying weapons to Yemen's Shi'ite al-Houthi rebels and to Lebanese Hezballah militants. The UN Security Council is reviewing draft plans for punitive measures against Eritrea, including an arms embargo, travel bans and freezing the assets of all Eritrea's political and military leaders. May God intervene in Eritrea to bring down this wicked regime, for the sake of the refugees, the oppressed and regional security, as well as for the sake of his faithful, severely persecuted Church.