The persecution of evangelical Christians in the eastern African country of Eritrea continues to increase at an alarming rate, a ministry to the persecuted church said this week.
Open Doors, which has been working to strengthen the Persecuted Church since 1955, reported Monday that there are currently 16 full-time pastors and nearly 900 Eritrean Christians known to be held in prisons, military confinement camps and shipping containers for meeting secretly for prayer and worship outside government-approved churches.
Of those who have been detained, none have been charged in court or brought to trial by government authorities, the Santa Ana, Calif.-based ministry added.
“The situation continues to deteriorate for Christians in Eritrea,” said Open Doors USA President Dr. Carl A. Moeller. “Over the past year the number of evangelical Christians imprisoned for their faith has doubled. Some of them, including young people, are locked in shipping containers placed in the hot sun. In February a group of Sunday School teachers and their students were arrested while holding classes on their church compound.”
According to Open Doors, the National Security headquarters in Asmara, Eritrea opened a new security office in the Ministry of Education last week, which sources say was formed “to supervise and stop religious activities in all the government schools in the country.”
“Now there are security measures in place to report students for any Christian activities,” a local source confirmed to Santa Ana, Calif.-based Compass Direct.
Last month, the Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) presented a report on international religious freedom to the UN Commission on Human Rights. In the report, the RLC stated that although the Eritrean government denies accounts of persecution, credible sources assert that, "the situation over the last year has become worse, not better, for the Eritrean Christians. Hundreds of Christians remain behind bars and are being persecuted simply for peacefully following their faith."
The RLC reported that in the first three weeks of 2005, there were over 200 separate accounts of Christian being arrested in Eritrea. “Increased hostility is also evident towards students, journalists and even ruling party members who have questioned governmental actions,” the Commission added.
In a recently released annual report by the U.S. Center on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), there were similar claims that the government of Eritrea was engaged in “particularly severe violations of freedom of religion or belief.”
The USCIRF noted that Eritrean security forces have disrupted private worship, conducted mass arrests of participants at prayer meetings and other gatherings, and detained those arrested without charge for indefinite periods of time as part of the campaign against the religious activities of those persons not belonging to officially recognized religious denominations. In recent months, following Eritrea’s designation as a “country of particular concern” in September 2004 by the State Department, the government’s religious crack-down has intensified with a series of arrests and detentions of clergy and hundreds of others, the USCIRF stated in its report.
This Wednesday, Jubilee Campaign and Christian Solidarity International will host a peaceful demonstration at the Eritrean Embassy in the Washington, D.C., on behalf of Eritrean Christians. During this time, Open Doors USA will hold a prayer vigil at its office and encourages Christians around the country to lift up the needs of Eritrean believers.
“Please join with me in praying for these imprisoned brothers and sisters in Christ,” said Moeller. “Open Doors USA is stepping up its advocacy on their behalf. We want to put the pressure on the Eritrean government to give religious freedom to all worshippers.”
Open Doors is also encouraging Christians to take action by writing or faxing the Eritrean Embassy on behalf of suffering Christians. Guidelines on writing letters to the Eritrean Embassy and updates on the situation can be found on the Open Doors USA Web site at www.odusa.org.