Three more Christians imprisoned for practicing their faith have died while inside military prison camps in western Eritrea, said officials from an international persecution watchdog group.
The number of believers in Christ now dying in the country while serving time in prison for their belief totals 21, said officials at Open Doors USA.
Terhase Gebremichel Andu, 28, and Ferewine Genzabu Kifly, 21, died as the result of starvation and untreated health problems, confidential sources inside Eritrea told Open Doors. Andu died on Oct. 16 and Kifly died one week later on Sunday.
Both were arrested during a prayer meeting in 2009 at a private home in Tesenai, according to Open Doors. They faced two years of physical torture and were denied medical care inside Adersete Military Camp.
Angesom Teklom Habtemichel, 26, who was imprisoned at Adi Nefase Military Camp in Asab, died at the end of August, officials with the ministry said. He suffered from severe malaria but was “denied medical treatment because of his written refusal to recant his Christian faith.”
All who perished were buried outside the military camps, according to Open Doors.
“Eritrea is a small country that has a bulls-eye on the backs of evangelical Christians,” Open Doors spokesperson Jerry Dykstra told The Christian Post. “President Afewerki denies that persecution takes place but the persecution of Christians, including keeping them in shipping boxes in the hot sun, has been well documented.”
The government in Eritrea outlawed all religious activities outside of the Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran, and Islamic faiths in 2002. Around half of Eritrea’s population is from an ethnic Muslim background, according to Open Doors statistics.
The number of Christians living in Eritrea, which is located in the Horn of Africa, is estimated to be about 2.2 million. Most of the Christians belong to the Orthodox Church, and the total amount represents approximately half of the country’s population.
Evangelical Christians, meanwhile, are struggling. Dykstra told CP, “Small evangelical churches have been closed and cannot be registered.”
Church leaders say that there are around 1,500 believers in prisons specifically for their faith. Christians are arrested and released at different times in waves. Those not suspected of being involved with leadership in the church are often released after signing some kind of agreement.
Church leaders in general are not allowed to leave the country and they feel isolated.
A large number of Christians are involved in obligatory military service and exercise their faith under severe restrictions. Large numbers of soldiers are being converted.
In general, it is risky for the churches to receive literature and other items.
Religious prisoners and their families/dependents are another burden on the already financially weak churches.
Dykstra is asking Christians to “pray for God’s sustaining grace upon those suffering in military prison camps. Pray that they would remain strong in the faith.”
“Pray for victims’ families that they would experience God’s grace and peace. Pray for God’s intervention in His time in Eritrea,” Dykstra asked in an email to CP. “Until He changes things, pray that the reaction of the Church in Eritrea would be an example and encouragement to the worldwide Body of Christ.”
“That international pressure would bring an end to the government of President Isalas Afewerki’s repressive policies,” he concluded.