Eritrean authorities rounded up more than 140 Christians in raids ahead of its Independence Day, according to Release International.
The Christian advocacy organisation claimed fourteen children were among the 141 people who were arrested at a private meeting in the Eritrean capital, Asmara.
Release International partners said the streets were filled with police and secret police, who were there to prevent and deal with any protests in the run-up to the country’s Independence Day.
Some of those detained in the latest police action are believed to still be incarcerated in Adi Abeito prison, close to where they were arrested; others were allegedly still being held by police at the time of publication.
As well as carrying out arrests, the authorities in Eritrea shut down social media. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom reported there has been no improvement in religious freedom or human rights conditions.
In 2002 Eritrea outlawed many Christian denominations and shut down evangelical and pentecostal churches, while claiming to support the national orthodox church.
In a statement, Release International claimed Christians who worship in unregistered churches are regarded as enemies of the state. Any believers in the armed services caught practising their faith face imprisonment.
Paul Robinson (pictured), chief executive of Release International, commented, ‘Things have to change in Eritrea. The country is no longer at war, but it still behaves as though it is – and the enemy is its own people.
‘Release has long been campaigning for Eritrea to release its prisoners of faith and to grant freedom of worship. Please continue to pray for a radical change of heart in President Isaias Afwerki and his government, amid mounting international pressure for reform’.
Eritrea is known as the ‘North Korea of Africa’, and is number six on the 2018 World Watch List, Open Doors’ annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution.