Christians have been arrested in Eritrea in a brace of government-sanctioned raids.
In March, the army raided a prayer meeting held by 23 women in the capital city of Asmara and imprisoned the women at Mai Sarawa prison.
Shortly after this, another 12 Christians were arrested in Assab, near the border with Djibouti, when they were caught holding a prayer meeting inside a house.
The latest string of arrests have dashed hopes of a change of heart towards Christians in the country, where many have been imprisoned for their faith since Eritrea closed many places of worship in 2002.
Eritrea and Ethiopia have faced international condemnation for the way in which they have carried out a brutal joint crackdown on alleged Tigray insurrectionists in the Tigray region. Tigray is reported to be 90 percent Christian.
According to Release International, which has partners on the ground in Eritrea, although 171 Christians had been released over the past six months, the latest arrests are ‘proof positive’ there has been no change of heart from the Eritrean government.
Release partner Dr Berhane Asmelash said, ‘There has been no change in the repressive government policy towards religious freedom.
‘Unless there is a change of policy, these will continue to be dangerous times for Christians in Eritrea, where many are suffering for their faith.’
Release International is particularly concerned for the women arrested at Assab, on the Red Sea, who have been taken to prison there. Conditions in the jail are known to be harsh.
Assab prison is in a remote port area which is now reserved for military use. Many Christians have been locked up in their dozens inside shipping containers, which are used as makeshift cells. There are now an estimated 165 Christian prisoners in state jails in Eritrea.