Eritrean authorities recently released 14 Christians who had spent the last two years in harsh military camps, a Christian persecution watchdog reported Thursday.
Twelve young Christians were released from Adi-Nefase military camp, located in the southern port city of Assab, Eritrea, according to Open Doors USA. All 12 of the released Christians are members of the Kale-Hiwot Church and were high school students at the time of their arrest.
Upon their release, authorities warned the believers not to participate in any Christian activities or risk execution, according to the watchdog.
On Monday, two other Eritrean Christians were released on bail from the notorious Mitire Military camp. The two men are members of the Rhema Church in Adi-Kuala, which lies along the border with Ethiopia. The two men were arrested and held at Mitire for the past year and seven months for witnessing about Christ to fellow military soldiers.
Authorities have sent the men back to the military units they served in before their arrests.
At least 2,000 Christians are currently in prison simply because of their faith. Christians are detained without trial or charge, and live in squalid conditions.
The Eritrean government allows, to a certain extent, citizens to worship in churches belonging to the Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran tradition. But authorities arrest, imprison and in some cases torture members that belong to unregistered "illegal" evangelical churches.
According to human rights groups, the government closed all churches in 2002 except those belonging to the four recognized religious denominations (Islam is the fourth recognized religion).
The government is highly suspicious of newer Christian movements such as the evangelical and Pentecostal ones and frequently harasses their followers.
In recent years, Eritrea has even cracked down on the Orthodox Church, which it previously had a close relationship with.
The head of the Eritrean Orthodox Church – former Patriarch Abune Antonios, 80 – was illegally dismissed from his position in January 2006 after criticizing the government for interfering in church activities and for its persecution of evangelical churches, according to human rights group Amnesty International. Since his deposal, Antonios has been under house arrest with little news heard about his condition in the past few months.
Eritrea is designated by the U.S. State Department as a Country of Particular Concern – a nation with severe religious freedom violations.