Eritrea releasing hundreds of Christians; 300 still detained

A man walks in front of an Eritrean church (PHOTO: Reuters)

Originally published in Worthy News

Eritrea’s autocratic government has released hundreds of Christians, but some 300 remain behind bars for activities linked to faith in Christ, according to data seen by Worthy News on Monday.

The one-party ruled, highly-militarised Eastern African nation saw the release of many devoted believers in 2023, said Christians familiar with the situation.

Among those released were Christian musicians, Worthy News learned. “In April 2023, more than 100 talented Christian young people, who are members of a musical group known as the Mahalians, were arrested after recording songs of praise which they had intended to share on YouTube. The government deemed their recording session an illegal church gathering,” confirmed Voice Of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC), a prominent Christian advocacy group.

“In September, it was announced that nearly half of the detained youth had been released,” VOMC told Worthy News.

“Since then, more imprisoned believers have gained their freedom, generally in small groups at a time. As of late November, it was reported that around 20 young people were still being held in captivity, with hopes that they too would soon be released,” the group added.

While there has been no change in governmental policy, advocacy group Church in Chains said “hundreds of Christian prisoners” were freed in the past few months and that “fewer believers than normal” were arrested during the same period.

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The total number of Christians currently incarcerated for their faith in Eritrea is estimated to be around 300, Christians said.

Many Christians are known to have been held in shipping containers or harsh prison camps, often for years, several investigations revealed.

“Praise God that many of these detained young people, as well as hundreds of other Christian prisoners, have been recently released from captivity,” added VOMC, which closely monitored their cases.

The group urged believers to continue to pray for those still held and their loved ones. It was also praying for “Eritrean authorities” and more freedom for Christians “so followers of Jesus will be granted their rightful freedom to worship Him and praise His holy name”.

Under Eritrea’s longtime President Isaias Afwerki, Eritrea became known as the “North Korea of Africa” due to its intense authoritarian government, advocacy group Open Doors said.

Eritrea ranks 4th on the Open Doors’ annual World Watch List of 50 nations where it says Christians face most persecution.

Eritrea only recognises three Christian denominations, the Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Lutheran, “so anyone who follows Jesus outside of these sanctioned churches is at constant risk”, Open Doors said.

“Even in the recognised churches, the government closely monitors every congregation. Speaking out about persecution or government interference in church matters is not tolerated at all.”

Afwerki has governed Eritrea since it became an independent country in 1993 and his People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDF) is the sole political party.

Observers say a presidential vote planned for 1997 never occurred, while a constitution ratified in the same year was never implemented.

It was not immediately clear what prompted the government to release Christians, but it came amid international pressure to improve human rights in the nation of 6.2 million.

Hundreds of thousands of people, including Christians, have fled Eritrea over the years, many setting off into the deserts of Sudan and then North Africa in attempts to reach Europe.

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