An Eritrean Christian has opened up about the 13 years of suffering he underwent for his faith in prison, including being punished for months at a time in a confined cell where he could not even stretch his limbs. Despite the suffering, he refused time and time again to renounce his faith.
World Watch Monitor reported on Tuesday that Shiden first came to faith in his late teens, despite the country's hostile treatment of evangelical Christians. He joined military service at the age of 22, but was caught during a secret worship meeting with other Christians.
From there he was moved to prison camps where he was made to suffer under harsh conditions, such as no sanitation, with guards taunting him and telling him to renounce his Christianity.
He answered back, however:
"I won't leave the faith because I believe it and I live by what I believe. I served this country faithfully and honestly during my military service. When you sent me to work in the field, I did that without complaining. But my belief is my personal belief, and you have to respect that. But if you don't, then I am willing to pay for it."
Later he was given two sheets of paper by prison officials, and asked to choose whether he believes in Jesus or not. Once again he stuck by his faith and told officials he was willing to pay the consequences, which is when he was moved to the general prison in Barentu, where he would spend the next 10 years.
"He was often put in solitary confinement for six months at a time, staying in a very small cell where he couldn't stretch out his arms or even stand up straight," the report describes.
At one point he was moved back to national service, but guards discovered sections of the Bible in his possession, which again had him sent to solitary confinement for a period of three months.
"During that time he saw no-one. Once a day, a cup of tea and a slice of bread were put through a gap in the door. He had no idea if anyone even knew what state he was in. He said it was a horrifying experience and that, to make it worse, just beforehand he had heard that some friends had managed to escape and cross the border," World Watch Monitor said.
Even after his release from prison after 13 years, Shiden continues suffering from the trauma of what he experienced, and with so much of his young adult life spent behind bars, he has missed out on education and job opportunities.
Although some officially recognized churches are allowed to operate in the African country, the targeting and persecution of Christians there is so severe that it is ranked at No. 6 on Open Doors USA's 2018 World Watch List of nations.
In some cases last year, entire evangelical families, including children, were arrested by officials.
"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 in December.
"Even children have been put under arrest if they're part of a Christian family," he added.