Persecution Watchdogs Protest Detention of Eritrean Christians, Call for Prayer

Seventy Christians arrested over two months ago in Eritrea’s capital city, Asmara, may have been sent to a detention center in one of the most inhospitable parts of Eritrea

Seventy Christians arrested over two months ago in Eritrea’s capital city, Asmara, may have been sent to a detention center in one of the most inhospitable parts of Eritrea, according to a UK-based global partnership standing against religious persecution in Eritrea.

The group, which was arrested on May 28 during a wedding celebration, had been promised freedom on condition that they express allegiance to the Orthodox, Catholic or Lutheran churches – the only Christian denominations that are sanctioned by the Eritrean government.

Although it was not reported how many, if any, of the 70 submitted to the demand, reports received by UK-based Release-Eritrea state that the group was transferred to a desert detention center in Wi’a, which is said to be the hottest region in Eritrea. The detention center was originally used by Italian Colonizers as a place of harsh punishment and is now reportedly used by the Eritrean government to routinely punish young people who exhibit any form of rebellion.

"I am dismayed that in this day and age a government of an independent nation sees it fit to punish its citizens under such conditions for any transgression," stated Dr Berhane Asmelash, Director of Release-Eritrea. "The fact that the only crime of these young people is confessing their faith in Jesus Christ makes their predicament totally inexplicable. I am concerned for their safety and wellbeing of course; however I am also concerned about the trend of escalation of severe persecution."

Reports received by UK-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide have also claimed recently that the mistreatment of Kelati Awalom while in detention led to the Rhema Church member’s death on July 24.

Erishalom Ministries, a coalition of Eritrean Christians consisting of believers working underground in Eritrea and out of the country, reported in their website that prison guards beat Awalom so severely about the head and neck that one of his arms was paralyzed.

Awalom, who was arrested along with his wife and five children on Mar. 17, 2004, reportedly died as a result of the injuries he sustained while in detention.

“We are gravely concerned at the escalation of repression in Eritrea,” said CSW Advocacy Director Tina Lambert in response to the reports received by Release-Eritrea and Erishalom. “The voice of the international community needs to be heard loud and clear by the Eritrean government if we are ever to see any improvement.”

Last month, members of Erishalom Ministries called for a worldwide day of prayer and fasting for Christian prisoners in Eritrea on Aug. 5.

In a letter to the international Christian community, the organizers of a “Day of Christian Prisoners” expressed their urgent need for help from the worldwide church.

In response to the call, CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said last month that “The treatment of Christians and many others in Eritrea today is morally outrageous.”

“The wider church must heed the call for help from our Eritrean family to stand with them in prayer,” he added.

According to CSW, some 500 Christians are currently imprisoned in Eritrea. The Christian persecution watchdog group also reported increasing harassment in Eritrea since 2002, particularly against evangelical and Pentecostal denominations – which the government equated with “Islamists and vilified as non-indigenous, unpatriotic agents of foreign interests, who were seeking to undermine public morality and destabilize the country.”