Eritrea Frees 30 Evangelical Christian Women

Thirty elderly Christian women who were arrested by Eritrean authorities earlier this month have been released, a Christian persecution watchdog announced Wednesday.

In a brief e-mail newsletter, International Christian Concern reported the women's release without further details.

"We would like to thank all of you for praying for these women and all Eritrean Christians," said ICC President Jeff King, in the e-mail. "We remain extremely concerned about the situation of Christians in Eritrea," he added, noting the some 3,000 Christians who are still detained in the country because of their faith.

On Dec. 5, the Eritrean government arrested the 30 women while they were attending a prayer gathering at a house. The women are mostly members of the Faith Mission Church, an evangelical church with a Methodist background.

Though the Faith Mission Church has legally existed for decades in the country, a recent law requiring churches to register with the government has turned the church into an illegal institution. It is impossible for the Faith Mission Church to register, however, because the government only allows three Christian denominations to legally exist: the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Evangelical Church of Eritrea.

But in recent years, the Eritrean government has cracked down on even registered churches.

Christians who become victims of the crackdown are typically thrown into outdoor metal shipping containers or are held in underground, windowless dungeons. Reports from Eritrean Christians who have escaped or been released also indicate that torture is commonplace in military camps.

Eritrea is designated by the U.S. State Department as a Country of Particular Concern – a nation with severe religious freedom violations.