What does persecution look like in Eritrea?
Believers in Eritrea continue to suffer extreme persecution, making it one of the hardest places in the world to follow Jesus.
For 20 years, Eritrea has only recognised three official Christian denominations: Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran, and closely monitors these churches. Over the years, government security forces have conducted hundreds of house-to-house raids to catch other Christians. There are thought to be 1,000 Christians indefinitely detained in Eritrean prisons, not officially charged with anything. Some leaders of 'unofficial' churches have been imprisoned in terrible conditions for more than a decade, including solitary confinement in tiny cells.
The authorities perpetuate a stigma against believers and encourage neighbours to spy on and report each other. Those who have become Christians from Muslim backgrounds, or who leave the Eritrean Orthodox Church for a non-traditional church, face extreme pressure and persecution from their own families and communities.
Christian men, women and children as young as 14 are being conscripted into the armed forces to fight in the conflict in Tigray. There's no time limit on military service and Eritrea does not allow conscientious objection. In fact, Christian prisoners are often 'released' into military service instead of being allowed home.
The very high level of state-sanctioned persecution and violence against Christians forces some to flee the country, but despite all this the church is actually growing, as Christians show extreme courage and joy and embrace the risk of arrest for Jesus.
Who is most vulnerable to persecution?
Christians throughout Eritrea are constantly facing state-sanctioned persecution. Those becoming Christians from a Muslim background, or changing denomination from an Orthodox background, face the harshest oppression from all sides as their communities and families turn against them as well.
"Even when we are in suffering, we rejoice. Our happiness is not based on what we have or do not have. When people see that, they accept Jesus.”Pastor Gideon, imprisoned for his faith for six and a half years
What has changed this year?
Violence against Christians has increased slightly in the past year. There is no sphere of life in which the pressure on Christians is not at an extreme level, and it is at its highest in church and public life – where government policy is mainly responsible for exerting pressure. Eritrea’s re-integration into the international community after the lifting of the UN sanctions did not do any good for Christians or even the general public in terms of freedom. The situation in Eritrea remains unbearable for many. As in previous years, government security forces conducted many raids and hundreds of Christians were taken to detention centres. Those who are released are often only released for a temporary period – or they are released for good international press coverage. Upon release from such detention centres, the individual will be ordered to denounce his or her religion and report to the local police on a weekly or monthly basis. Failure to report will lead to further detention. Many have been imprisoned in harsh conditions for over ten years and are still languishing in jail.
Numerous violations have taken place in the past 12 months. Thousands of men, women and children as young as 14 were reportedly apprehended and sent to the front lines to fight in Tigray. Around the new year, 25 young believers were detained in Barentu and Asmara. A group of 13 Christians were also detained in Asmara, arrested while celebrating Christmas. In June 2022, more than 150 Christians were detained while they were praying in the Asmara Godaif neighbourhood. "This number is too much in a single home meeting. We do not support their act," said the authorities. In March 2022, Eritrean police arrested 29 Evangelical Christians (Pentecostals) and raided their homes in Asmara while they were praying. In September 2022, Eritrean security forces entered Akrur Medhanealem [a Catholic church] and arrested several young people who were praying in the church. The security forces also arrested the deacons, the church ministers and choir during the church raid, even though the Catholic church is meant to be one of the 'accepted' Christian denominations in Eritrea.
What does Open Doors do to help Christians in Eritrea?
Open Doors works through local church partners in Eritrea to provide economic empowerment projects, discipleship and persecution survival training.
How can you pray for Eritrea?
- Please pray that those in power have a huge change of heart towards Christians
- Pray for supernatural strength, hope and joy for imprisoned believers and their families
- For Open Doors' work to strengthen the new believers coming to faith in such a challenging context.