The body of a Christian mother who died in an Eritrean prison earlier this month showed scars that indicate that she may have been abused by her captors, a family member said.
A relative of Fikadu Debesay, an evangelical mother of three who died while imprisoned at the Metkel Abiet camp this month, told the Christian persecution news outlet Morning Star News that it is likely that some form of torture or "mistreatment" could have contributed to her death.
The relative, who attended Debesay's burial on Aug. 10, stated that mourners saw a scar on her face and another scar on her left hand. The relative noted that the scars "could have been a sign of some mistreatment or intense sunburn that resulted to her untimely death."
"It has been very difficult consoling the children," the relative, who is now looking after the couple's children, told Morning Star News. "They want to know what happened to their mother."
Debesay was arrested along with her husband in May during a government crackdown on evangelical Christians in the town of Adi Quala. It's been reported that at least 210 Eritrean Christians have been arrested during the government crackdown this year on non-state-sanctioned religious worship.
In Eritrea, religious practices other than those affiliated with the Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran and Orthodox Christian churches and Sunni Islam are outlawed.
The relative, who chose to remain nameless, explained that the children are still wondering about the fate of their father. The relative added that the children are having trouble sleeping at night.
"Our parents were picked up by unknown people while we were praying at home, only for our mum to come back in a coffin," the relative quoted one of the children as stating. "Where is our dad?"
Debesay's death was originally reported by the United Nations-accredited charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which stated that the cause of her death was unknown.
Although there has been an increase in the arrests of evangelical Christians this year, non-state-sanctioned religion has been targeted and outlawed by the government since 2002.
According to Open Doors USA's 2017 World Watch List, Eritrea ranks as the 10th worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution.
Open Doors reports the persecution of Protestants in Eritrea is exacerbated by the Eritrean Orthodox Church, which "persecutes those who leave the EOC and become Evangelical or Pentecostal believers."
"The dire situation overall in Eritrea is contributing to the global refugee crisis," an Open Doors fact sheet states, adding that thousands of Christians have fled from the country.
Open Doors added that many Christians arrested by the government have been "locked in shipping containers" and have "died as a result."
Crackdowns on evangelical Christians continue to take place monthly, according to CSW, which reported in its initial news release on Debesay's death that 23 more Christians were arrested in the capital city of Asmara in the first week of August.