By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) - Concerns were mounting Tuesday about the situation of 15 devoted Christians who were reportedly rearrested by Eritrea’s authorities for their faith.
“Cry out to God on behalf of our brothers and sisters re-arrested,” wrote advocacy group Barnabas Fund in a prayer appeal to supporters confirming the detention.
The group, mainly men, ranging in age from late 20s to late 60s, were taken to the Mai Serwa maximum security prison in Asmara, the capital, after raids on their homes, Christians said.
All were previously imprisoned for their faith amid an ongoing government crackdown on devoted Christians, Worthy News learned. The men and some women were re-arrested after Eritrean authorities discovered a list of Christian contacts, according to Christian sources familiar with the situation.
“Most had served between five and six years [in jail], but some endured 16 years of incarceration until being freed in September 2020” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Barnabas Fund explained.
The arrests followed the reported detention in July of two elderly pastors, Girmay Araia and Samuel Gebrewleldi, from the Full Gospel Church of Eritrea. Both men, who are in their 70s, were taken to Asmara’s Second Police Station, Christians said.
They are among at least hundreds of Christian believed to remain behind bars in the autocratically-ruled African nation. Many are held in what rights groups call “inhumane prisons,” including even containers, because of their faith. Their loved ones often do not know where they are or even if they are still alive.
Barnabas Fund urged its supporters to “Pray that they will be able to set their eyes on things above [as mentioned in Bible verse] Colossians 3:2”. And “draw strength” from God “as they contemplate further harsh incarceration.”
The charity also urged prayers for their release, which seemed difficult. Long-time President Isaias Afwerki views devoted Christians from especially non-traditional churches as a threat to his power base, Worthy News established.
He has governed Eritrea since it became an independent country in 1993. His People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDF) is the only political party. Presidential elections scheduled for 1997 never happened, and a constitution ratified in the same year was never implemented.
Most Christian prisoners held by his forces are Bible-believing believers worshiping outside the few government-approved churches. They face crackdowns from the government and the state-backed Eritrean Orthodox Church (EOC), rights activists and local Christians say.
“Almost half of Eritreans are Christians, some 2.6 million from a population of 5.4 million. But Christians who aren’t from state-approved denominations face extreme persecution,” said Christian rights monitor Open Doors.
Government security forces monitor phone calls, scrutinize Christian activities, and raid Christian homes, according to cases documented by Worthy News.
Police also seize Christian materials and have been seen damaging illegal “house churches.” Many Christians have been detained and imprisoned without trial, numerous sources confirmed.
Open Doors also expressed concern about Christian women subjected to obligatory military service. “Christian women who are conscripts are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence. While detained or imprisoned female Christians often experience violence from prison guards.” Additionally, in “rural areas of Eritrea, abduction and forced marriage are still prevalent. If a Muslim abducts a Christian woman, she will be forcibly converted,” the group added.
Christian advocacy groups and the United Nations say that ongoing military tensions at the Eritrean-Ethiopian border added to ongoing human rights violations.
Despite hardships, Christians have continued evangelism even behind bars. “In prison, one of my main purposes as a Christian was to evangelize. We saw many conversions. The Gospel can’t be chained,” said Musse, which is not his real name.
Musse was detained and sent to prison for working as a pastor at a closely monitored ‘unregistered church’ and spent six “terrible years” there, he and fellow Christians made clear.
“In prison, one of my main purposes as a Christian was to evangelize,” Musse stressed in comments distributed through Open Doors.
“Of course, it is forbidden to do it openly, but we did it at night when everybody was asleep. We even had Bible verses we could study in secret,” he added.
Though some “problematic people” told guards about his Christian activities, “many loved what we taught and shared. Some of them even tried to cover for us”. Musse noted that a lot of inmates accepted faith in Christ.
Like many Christians in his nation, the pastor remains under constant surveillance, and authorities may rearrest him.
His wife Ruth, which isn’t her real name, stressed that prayer keeps them faithfully continuing their work anyway.
“Please continue praying for us,” she told Christians. “We need prayers so that we live without worry and keep calm.”