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Eritrea: Scores of women arrested in church raids

04 July 2017

Scores of women arrested in church raidsA typical street in Eritrea's capital, Asmara

Thirty-three Eritrean women, detained during a series of raids on churches by the military, are being held in a 'notoriously harsh prison', according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

The 33 women - among the first to be arrested on raids on non-sanctioned churches in the capital, Asmara, and seven other towns - are being held on a prison island created by Italian colonialists in the 19th century to crush political dissent.

According to CSW, there are many young mothers among the prisoners. The arrests have left 50 children without parental care as husbands are either military conscripts or working away.

Unprecedented crackdown against Christians

Since the beginning of May, at least 170 Christians have been detained - an increase of 50 from the estimate two weeks ago, says CSW.

The raids are the latest phase in a crackdown on Christians, which appear to be unprecedented in its intensity and rough treatment.

Prison or Escape

Thousands of Christians have been arrested and imprisoned over the years, some of whom still remain in prison after 11 years. For those imprisoned, the conditions are miserable. Some have been reported as being held in shipping containers in scorching temperatures, and others talk of being forced to 'work for long hours without rest'. In 2016, at least three Christians died for their faith in Eritrean jails.

Facing arrest or forced conscription into military service, many young Eritrean Christians instead choose to risk the deadly emigration routes via Sudan and Libya rather than stay in their country.

In its June 2016 report, the UN Commission of Inquiry on human rights in Eritrea found 'reasonable grounds to believe' that crimes against humanity have been committed by state officials in a 'widespread and systematic manner' since 1991, including the crime of persecution.

Meeting in secret for 15 years - how persecution has increased

Eritrea is the tenth most difficult country in the world to be a Christian, according to Open Doors' 2017 World Watch List.

For the last 15 years, Eritrean believers have been holding secret churches in people's homes after Christian practice outside the Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran denominations was outlawed by the government in 2002. (Sunni Islam was also prohibited.)

The Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church (EOC) was subsequently deposed and replaced in 2007 - he has been under house arrest and incommunicado for a decade.

In 2013, persecution against Christians intensified after a failed, low-level attempted coup took place, which the autocratic government blamed on 'the West' and Ethiopia. Christians were then labelled as 'agents of the West' and many were arrested.

Source: CSW; Open Doors; World Watch Monitor

Please pray:

  • That the Lord would be with all those Christians, including the 33 women, who have been arrested over the last two months
  • For the families of the women - particularly their children - that they would be looked after and that the Holy Spirit would be at work in their lives
  • That God would bring comfort and encouragement to those who have been incarcerated for a long time in Eritrean prisons, that they would be able to act as a Christians to those around them
  • That there would be breakthrough in Eritrea, and that President Isaias Afewerki and his government would come to know the Lord.

More News from Eritrea:

Find out more about persecution in Eritrea.