Christians in Eritrea are experiencing an increased state crackdown, with fears that even children face a future behind bars, Release International has warned.
Launching a campaign to pressurise the Eritrean government to release Christian prisoners, Release International has revealed that at least 200 Christians have been arrested in house-to-house raids, in a tough new crackdown, which is tearing children from their parents.
According to Release, young children and a baby are among those arrested and it is feared they could spend their childhood in a prison cell. Security forces in Eritrea have rounded up 177 adults, along with some 20 small children. The arrests are continuing and many Christians have gone into hiding.
Release International partner Dr Berhane Asmelash said rounding up Christians door-to-door is a new tactic that signals a worsening of the crackdown that has been going on for years.
He said: ‘This is new for us when they go from house to house. They are arresting people for their beliefs, not for their actions.
‘Security forces in different towns went from house to house, asking people their religion. If they were outside the [state-sanctioned] Lutheran, Catholic, Muslim and Orthodox faiths, they arrested them. Twelve children were arrested with their parents, and some parents were forced to leave their under age children unattended’.
In 2002 Eritrea outlawed many Christian denominations and shut down Evangelical and Pentecostal churches. Christians who refused to renounce their faith were jailed indefinitely without trial. Some 173 long-term prisoners of faith, including many church leaders, remain behind bars in brutal conditions. The latest clampdown began in May 2017.
Paul Robinson, chief executive of Release International, said, ‘Eritrea today is like one giant prison, where hope has disappeared and where most people are denied simple freedoms, basic human dignity and human rights’ (http://www.releaseinternational.org).
Barnabas Fund also reports that many Christians have fled Eritrea to nearby countries, such as Ethiopia, South Sudan and Egypt to escape persecution. Every month hundreds make the arduous journey across the Sinai desert to seek safety and freedom in Israel.
Some die along the way; others are shot dead at the border; still others are taken hostage for ransom by nomads; and those who are caught may be sent back to Eritrea. Those who claim asylum in Egypt may be thrown into prison, while others end up in the hands of traffickers. They can suffer rape, harassment, torture, beatings or even slavery.
Tesfay Kidane was one such Christian refugee. He was denied refuge in Israel and eventually ended up, along with other Eritreans, making the long journey north to Libya, on foot, hoping to find a way to cross the sea to Europe.
But in Libya he was captured by Islamic State militants. They told him that if he converted to Islam he would live. He and his Eritrean companions refused to deny Christ and were beheaded by IS on 19 April 2015.
This is just one Eritrean Christian, among many, who has suffered appallingly for his faith and died a martyr (https://www.barnabasfund.org).