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ERITREA: Christian Prisoners & Refugees Suffering Unimaginably

By worldview
Created 15 Nov 2012 - 20:45

Eritrea, in the Horn of Africa on the Red Sea coast, has one of the most
brutally repressive dictatorships in the world. The population is equally
divided between Christians (90 percent Eritrean Orthodox) who live mostly
in the highlands and Muslims who live mostly in the coastal lowlands.
Eritrea won its independence from Ethiopia in 1991 and Isayas Afewerki has
been the president since independence was declared and internationally
recognised in 1993. In 2001, in the wake of a two-year border war with
Ethiopia (1998-2000), Afewerki began cracking down hard on anything that
could be viewed as a threat to national unity. He cancelled elections and
closed all independent media. Opposition figures - politicians, activists
and journalists - were removed, mostly to underground 'secret prisons' for
the 'disappeared'.

In May 2002, reportedly at the behest of the Eritrean Orthodox Church
(EOC), the government began cracking down on 'foreign' and 'non-
traditional' religion. A Biblical revival and renewal movement had
exploded within the EOC. While some priests accommodated or even embraced
the movement, others resisted, forcing those desiring a more evangelical
Christianity to leave the EOC for Protestant fellowships. The exodus has
caused great angst in the hierarchy of the EOC. Now only state-sanctioned
Muslim, Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Mekane Yesus (Evangelical
Lutheran) denominations are legal and worshipping in a Protestant
fellowship is a criminal offence. However, by mid-2005 the authorities
were oppressing the EOC as well, specifically those EOC priests supportive
of the renewal movement and protesting religious persecution. When EOC
head, Patriarch Abune Antonios, complained about the persecution of his
priests, Afewerki had him deposed, placed under house arrest and replaced
with a government administrator.

By the end of 2010 an estimated 3000 Eritrean Christians of all
denominations (mostly Protestant) were incarcerated purely for their
faith; today the number is estimated at around 1500. Whilst most prisoners
are held in shipping containers in desert camps, some are kept in
underground cells. The conditions are inhumane: children and the elderly
are amongst the prisoners sharing skin diseases, dysentery and other
horrors in confined, unventilated spaces. Torture is routine. Amnesty
International has reported on the tortures suffered by Christian
prisoners. Several Christians have died in custody and others have
perished in the desert trying to escape.

Because Eritrea has no independent media, news of persecution is difficult
to obtain for it must be leaked at great personal risk. Open Doors (OD)
reports that on 30 October a Christian by the name of Adris Ali Mohammed
(31), a Muslim convert from the town of Tesenai, died in custody. Adris
had spent almost two years in a suffocating dungeon located in Eritrea's
Aderset Military Camp, where some 100 Christians are believed to be
detained. According to sources, Adris had stood firm through two years of
terrible suffering and systematic torture aimed at forcing him to renounce
his faith. According to OD, 'Military officials secretly buried Adris
outside the camp.'

The repression has created a refugee crisis with many Christians amongst
them. In July The Guardian reported that the Eritrea military runs a
business kidnapping Eritrean refugees out of refugee camps in Sudan and
trafficking them into the Sinai where they are sold to Bedouin gangs 'who
use starvation, electrocution, rape and murder to extort up to $40,000
from relatives in the Eritrean diaspora for their release'. According to
Strategic Policy magazine (4, 2012) Maj-Gen. Tekle 'Manjus' Kiflai has
been identified as the 'co-ordinator of the human smuggling operation'
which reportedly serves as 'a major revenue source for the PFDJ', the
ruling People's Front for Democracy and Justice. This very powerful Maj-
Gen. Tekle, an ethnic 'Christian', is rumoured to be a possible successor
to Afewerki. Eritrea also funds, arms and trains anti-Ethiopian forces
across the region, as well as rebels fighting against the Government of
South Sudan.

But change is looming. For many years Afewerki had been funded and propped
up by Gadhafi (Libya) and Mubarak (Egypt). With these two backers now
removed, Eritrea's principal ally is US-allied, Islamist Qatar which is
fully occupied trying to orchestrate regime change in Damascus, Syria.
Furthermore, Afewerki is so unwell that when he disappeared in March,
rumours circulated that he had died. Eventually he quelled those rumours
by making an appearance on State TV on 29 April. Afewerki allegedly has a
liver complaint for which he has received medical treatment in Qatar.
Whilst Eritrea is ripe for change, the rot runs deep.


* interpose himself in Eritrea to bring deep and radical change; may he
bring judgment on all who trade in suffering and terror and bring an
end to belligerence and repression. May he open the door to a new era
of justice, liberty and peace, to his glory.

'In my distress I called upon the LORD . . . and my cry to him reached
his ears. Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the
mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry. He rescued me,
because he delighted in me.' (Psalm 18:6,7,19b ESV)

* have mercy on his sorely persecuted Church. Lord, comfort and protect
them, sustaining them in body and soul, especially prisoners and
refugees. Lord, provide all their needs, fanning their faith into flame
so they may not lose hope; may their trust be in you.

* redeem this era of intensive persecution by refining and unifying the
Eritrean Church and use their stories of faithfulness to soften the
hearts and open the eyes of multitudes.

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