Over 100 Christians have been detained in a series of arrests by Eritrean security officials since Dec. 30, Open Doors, a ministry advocating for persecuted Christians, reported Thursday.
Authorities targeted churches in and around the capital of Asmara, and also the town of Nakfa, located in northern Eritrea. The arrests confirmed fears of a government crackdown of churches.
On New Year’s Eve, the entire 41-member congregation of Philadelphia Church in Asmara was taken into custody for questioning, and members were allegedly beaten.
In another case, officials arrested 35 worshippers, including two elderly men in poor health, during a prayer meeting at church in Nakfa on Jan. 9.
The director of human rights organization Release Eritrea, Selam Kidane, also warned of escalating persecution across the country in her address to at a Release International conference in November.
In a U.S. embassy cable recently published by WikiLeaks, it was exposed that Eritrean officials “regularly tortured prisoners.”
The leaked document also revealed the inhumane conditions that Christians arrested for practicing their faith are subjected to.
“Many prisoners could not talk due to the lack of water, their tongues stuck to the roofs of their mouth from thirst,” a former prisoner told U.S. embassy officials.
In May 2002, the Eritrean government outlawed all religious groups, with the exception of Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran and Islam, leaving other church denominations unable to formally register.
Since then, the country has seen a rise in Christian persecution, with an estimated 3,000 still being held in underground dungeons and shipping containers.
According to Open Doors, around 45 percent of the 4.9 million people are Christian.