By Joseph DeCaro, Worthy News Correspondent
ASMARA, ERITREA (Worthy News)– Eritrean authorities are punishing 39 Christian high school students by subjecting them to beatings and hard labor, according to Open Doors.
Sources told Open Doors that after completing their mandatory four-month military training, the students were arrested for their "Christian beliefs and for their commitment to Christ" and are being held at the SAWA military training center; sources also report that Eritrean authorities are threatening them with long prison sentences should they fail to renounce Christ.
Since 2002, worship outside the government-sanctioned Sunni Muslim, Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran Church of Eritrea has been forbidden; earlier this year, the government began a renewed crackdown on all Christians outside state-approved churches, according to Open Doors.
The architect of this religious repression is President Isaias Afewerki who has been in power since Eritrea's liberation in 1991. After a two-year border war with Ethiopia, Afewerki began cracking down on anything he perceived as a threat to Eritrea's national unity, wrote Elizabeth Kendal in the November 2012 Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin.
"He cancelled elections and closed all independent media. Opposition figures – politicians, activists and journalists – were removed, mostly to underground secret prisons for the 'disappeared.'"
According to Kendal, by the end of 2010, an estimated 3,000 Protestant Christians were incarcerated for their faith inside shipping containers at desert camps and in underground prison 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 … several Christians have died in custody, and others have perished in the desert trying to escape."
Christians make up 47 percent of Eritrea’s population of 5.2 million, according to Operation World