Entire evangelical Christian families, including children, are reportedly being arrested in new persecution tactics being used by Eritrean officials, human rights activists have said.
"Since May of this year, nearly 200 Christians have been arrested. The interesting thing about this — they have shifted tactics ... Instead of just raiding church services or Bible studies, now the government is going to the homes of Christians, and they're arresting the whole family," Todd Nettleton of Voice of the Martyrs USA told Mission Network News.
"Even children have been put under arrest if they're part of a Christian family."
Nettleton explained that the children are taken into custody when their parents are arrested, and said that 16 students were taken by officials in November, simply for praying.
"Even as bad as it was, this seems like even a step further in the persecution of Christians — to arrest even children who are involved in Christian activities," Nettleton added.
The country's Christian population, roughly half of the nation, are given a choice to worship at the Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Eritrean Catholic Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church, but all other house churches and Christian meetings are not tolerated.
"The Evangelical Church has been outlawed in Eritrea by the government. Any kind of public church meetings are illegal, other than those in the approved denominations by the government," he stated.
"So anytime Christians gather together, they face arrest, they face persecution and imprisonment. Many times those imprisonments are in horrible conditions, even being held in shipping containers which have no plumbing. They have very limited air supply, they're closed off, they're [hot] in the summer, they're very cold in the winter."
Both a major Catholic and an Islamic school were also recently targeted. Christian Solidarity Worldwide told The Christian Post in November that the government "appears obsessed with controlling every aspect of the lives of its citizens."
Khataza Gondwe, CSW's team leader for Africa and the Middle East, explained that the three permitted Christian churches, including the one sanctioned Islamic branch, are not free from government interference.
"The targeting of educational establishments belonging to two of the faith communities which are permitted to function in the country is indicative of an enduring unwillingness to respect and protect both the right to education and the right of freedom of religion or belief," said CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas.
Nettleton told MNN article that despite such persecution, believers continue to meet.
"And one of the amazing things about the Eritrean Church is that they continue to serve the Lord, they continue to meet together for worship. The churches that were closed moved almost immediately into a house church, underground church type of activity," he said.
Moreover, the Christians are also sharing their faith with others despite the risks.
"They are sharing the Gospel. They are seeing other people won to Christ. And that's really an amazing example of faithfulness to the call of Christ, even in really horrific circumstances," Nettleton said.