By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) - Three elderly “semi-retired pastors” have been arrested in Eritrea’s capital Asmara apparently, for their faith in Christ, an advocacy group said late Thursday.
“Pastor Girmay Araya and Pastor Samuel Okbamichael were taken from their homes in the middle of the night for interrogation,” explained Voice Of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC). “Police intended to imprison a third pastor, Georgio Gebreab, but they found him sick in bed.”
VOMC, which closely followed the case, told Worthy News in a statement that Gebreab has since been placed under house arrest until he is well enough to be taken into custody.
Gebreab previously served five years in a prison camp before being released seven years ago, Worthy News learned. “He has been very ill for some time,” VOMC said, without going into details.
The arrests of the men, who are all in their 70s, happened late last month but were confirmed to Worthy News Thursday.
“Since they were all over 70 years old and only occasionally conducted funeral or wedding services, it is unclear why these elderly Christian men had been targeted for arrest,” VOMC added.
While no official charges were filed, VOMC suggested that the arrests were linked to their publicly expressed Christian faith and related activities. “In June, the United Nations Special Rapporteur to Eritrea reported serious human rights issues persisting in the country. Special note was made of faith groups being detained without any charge or trial,” VOMC recalled.
In fact, VOMC said, “some Christians have been imprisoned for many years without a trial.”
It urged its supporters to” pray that, even in the midst of the country’s terrible prison conditions, the Lord will fill these believers with renewed strength, hope and endurance. Please also pray that Pastor Georgio will experience complete physical healing.”
Christian persecution has worsened under President Isaias Afwerki, who has ruled the Horn of Africa nation since it gained independence in 1993, Christians say.
In 2002, his government outlawed every religion except Sunni Islam and the Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholicism, and Lutheran Church denominations.
The authorities closed many Evangelical and Pentecostal churches and kept the patriarch of the Orthodox Church under house arrest since January 2007.
Registered churches also come under tight government control.
And Christians who worship in unregistered churches are regarded as enemies of the state.
Eritrea, a one-party, highly militarized society, has been described by critics as the “North Korea of Africa,” where faith groups are seen as a threat to the president’s power base.
Some 12 percent of the 6-million population has fled the country, according to the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR.
VOMC said it urged Christians will pray that “even in the midst of the country’s terrible prison conditions, the Lord will fill these believers with renewed strength, hope and endurance.”
The group also hopes that family and friends of those jailed “turn to Christ for needed help, comfort and encouragement “as they seek His divine intervention on behalf of their loved ones.”