A Christian man has shared his story of how he was imprisoned, tortured, and starved for his faith in an Eritrean prison, shedding light on some of the abuses the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights has recently accused the government of carrying out.
"They take you outside in the hot sun with nothing to make you suffer and leave you out in the cold at night. ... I was praying and God told me, 'Don't be afraid. It will pass. Stand in your faith,'" the man, identified as 'Yohan,' told International Christian Concern.
The persecution watchdog group added that Yohan had been "tied up like an animal" and forced to eat "trash mixed with dirty rain water," while bound outside and exposed to torrential rains, a burning desert sun at day and bitter cold nights.
The Christian had been sent to jail in 2003 for preaching the Gospel after he was forcibly conscripted at age 18, which is illegal in Eritrea.
"They don't allow preaching and they don't allow religious movements," Yohan said. "They are afraid always if people get together in groups. ... They know if they gather to make fellowship, they think it will turn into a movement to end their power. They don't allow very large groups of people to gather for any reason."
There are only three legal Christian denominations in Eritrea, namely Catholic, Lutheran, and Orthodox; all others are banned.
Yohan managed to escape prison and fled to Sudan in 2004, and eventually made his way to the U.S., where he now lives under asylum.
Last week, the U.N. Commission released a 28-page report that found "systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed in Eritrea," and said that some of the government's actions may constitute "crimes against humanity. "
The report accused the Eritrean government of using torture, imprisonment and fear to control the population.
"Torture is either directly ordered by officials or inflicted with their consent and acquiescence. The recurrence, coherence and similarities of the many torture incidents documented are a clear indication of the existence of a deliberate policy to inflict torture in a routine manner during investigations and interrogations, as well as during national service," the U.N. said.
"Perpetrators of torture enjoy general impunity. The commission concludes that the government is accountable for the widespread torture inflicted on Eritreans throughout the country."
Journalists have also been routinely targeted by the government, as the watchdog group Reporters Without Borders pointed out.
"The international community will no longer be able to ignore the situation in Eritrea. It is crucial that the mandate of the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea is renewed so that she can continue investigating a country that is an information black hole," the group said.