In 2002 the Eritrean government outlawed the freedom of worship for many believers. Outside of Islam, and the denominations of Orthodoxy, Evangelical Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism, believers were prohibited from meeting. Churches were driven underground and still face varying degrees of restrictions and attacks – many are secretly monitored, and have been forced to close or destroyed. Thousands of Christians have been arrested and put in prison without any legal representation.
Among these believers are a number of prominent church leaders who were arrested in 2004. These leaders face intimidation, hunger, and are denied access to proper medical care because they refuse to renounce Christ. Now, nearly 12 years later, they remain incarcerated at Wongel Mermera – a dungeon-like inner prison in Asmara. They have little hope of release any time soon.
Haile Naigzhi (left), Kiflu Gebremeskel (centre), Abune Antonios (right)
1. Gemma: A Messianic Jewish believer, former nurse, midwife and social worker
2. Haile Naigzhi: The leader of Eritrea’s Full Gospel Church. He was arrested during the early morning hours of 23 May 2004 from his home. He has a wife and three teenage children.
3. Kiflu Gebremeskel: A leading figure of Full Gospel Church of Eritrea, and a founder and senior pastor of Southwest Full Gospel Church. He was taken from his home at around 5am in Asmara Gejeret, in May 2004. His wife and four children have not been able to visit him.
4. Kidane Weldou: A senior pastor of the Full Gospel Church and a member of the executive committee of Gideons International in Eritrea. He is married and has four daughters. Kidane disappeared in 2005. When his vehicle was found abandoned, his family assumed that he had been arrested.
5. Futsum Gebrenegus: An Orthodox priest and Eritrea’s only psychiatrist. Futsum was arrested in November 2004 for allegedly being involved in the renewal movement within the Orthodox Church.
6. Gebremedhin Gebregiorsis: An expert theologian and Orthodox priest. He also was arrested in November 2004 for allegedly being involved in the renewal movement within the Orthodox Church.
7. Tekleab Menghisteab: A highly respected physician and Orthodox priest – he, too, was arrested in November 2004 for alleged involvement in the renewal movement within the Orthodox Church.
8. Pastor Meron Gebreselasie: The pastor of Massawa Rhema Church and an anesthetist at Massawa Hospital. He was arrested on 3 June 2004 at a police checkpoint.
9. Rev Ogbamichael Teklehaimanot: The senior pastor of the Kale Hiwot Church who was arrested for participating in a Protestant wedding ceremony on 9 January 2005. He was imprisoned and was subjected to ten months of solitary confinement and hard labour at Sawa military camp. He is now being held in Barentu, where he had spent six years before being temporarily released (he was re-arrested six months after his release when a church member who was trying to escape Eritrea called his phone).
10. Deposed Orthodox Patriarch Abune Antonios: He remains under house arrest in Asmara.
Source: Open Doors
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imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.