Two Christian men have been arrested in Eritrea’s capital, Asmara, as the number of arrests of Christians continues to rise in the country. This comes as a UN representative in Eritrea, Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, has called on the Eritrean government to release those imprisoned for their faith ‘immediately and unconditionally’.
The two men were arrested over a month ago on 10 May. Although the reasons for their arrest remain unclear, local sources suspect it is because they are Christians and members of a religious group that is not registered and recognised by the government. A 2002 law permits only Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran churches, meaning that any other denominations cannot worship or meet together openly.
In March alone, more than 30 Christians were arrested during a series of raids in Asmara and the south-eastern city of Assab.
“This latest wave of arrests is proof that there has been no change in the repressive government policy towards religious freedom in the country,” said Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker in his annual report to the UN Human Rights Commission.
Babiker said that while a number of Christians had been released in the last year, the situation remained concerning and he urged the Eritrean government to ‘immediately and unconditionally release all those who remain in prison without charge or trial because of their faith or belief’. That includes 13 Christians who’ve been imprisoned solely for their faith.
Image: Imprisoned Christians in Eritrea are often held in shipping containers, which get unbearably hot during the day and drop to freezing temperatures at night
“In 2020, the government began releasing arrested Christians, raising hopes that it was relaxing its repressive policies,” said Yonas Dembele, an Open Doors researcher. “However, recent reports of further arrests have dampened such hopes. Pentecostal and Evangelical Christians in particular continue to be regarded as ‘instruments of foreign governments’.”
It’s difficult to know how many prisoners in Eritrea are held because of their religious beliefs. There are no official statistics and prisoners are never formally charged, but local sources estimate that it might be anywhere between 600 and 1200.
“Open Doors continues to call on the international community to urge the Eritrean government to fully respect freedom of religion and to stop the arbitrary arrest and indefinite detention of hundreds of Christians who never benefitted from due legal process,” said Jo Newhouse, spokesperson for Open Door’s work in sub-Saharan Africa.
“We call on the international community to continue in fervent prayer for our brothers and sisters in Eritrea. Pray that God will continue to build His church. Pray that church leaders will have wisdom as they interact with the government and find ways to advocate for greater freedom. Pray for God’s provision for the hundreds of Christians who continue to endure hardship in prison.”
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