By BosNewsLife News Center
ASMARA/AMSTERDAM (BosNewsLife) — A group of Christian men remained "in great danger" Monday, June 26, after escaping from a military prison camp in Eritrea, where they were held in metal containers for refusing to abandon their faith in Christ, investigators said.
At least five of the 15 Christians who escaped from the camp died, apparently because of a lack of water, as they fled towards the desert, reported Christian rights group Open Doors. Their bodies were reportedly discovered by the Eritrean army.
It remained unclear Monday, June 26, whether the other men, whose names were not identified, managed to cross the desert into neighboring Djibouti. "We hope they passed the border of Djibouti. But if they are still in Eritrea, then they are in great danger," said Open Doors from its headquarters in Ermelo, the Netherlands. "They need prayers," the organization added.
Human rights groups estimate there are at least 1800 Christians imprisoned for their faith in Eritrea. They say that many are held in camps or metal containers, where temperatures can increase to 60 decrees Celsius (140 Fahrenheit) and at night to the freezing point.
"The only crime of these jailed Christians is often that they participated in a Bible study group, prayed with someone at home, or were singing Christian songs," added Open Doors. The organization participates in an international campaign against the reported persecution of Christians in the African nation.
Tensions with Christians have recently increased after Eritrea's government called on priests and seminarians to serve in the army, amidst continued fears that the border dispute with Ethiopia will erupt into a new full-scale war. Catholic bishops have written twice to the government demanding that clergy be exempt from compulsory national service for men aged under 40, reported the Catholic Information Service for Africa.
United Nations' peacekeepers have been controlling the border since the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia ended in 2000, but churches are concerned that plans by the UN to withdraw some of its 3,000 troops will lead to more instability.
Eritrea's government has denied human rights abuses saying that no groups or persons are persecuted in the country for their beliefs or religion.
President Isaias Afworki has been quoted as saying that several religious groups have been "duped by foreigners" who sought to "distract from the unity of the Eritrean people and distort the true meaning of religion." Critics say the government's version of religion often leads to tensions with especially Christians who actively express their faith in Christ.
Since May of 2002, the Eritrean government banned all Christian churches independent of the Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran communities, although rights watchers claim that even 'official' churches are increasingly persecuted. (With BosNewsLife 's Special Correspondent Eric Leijenaar in the Netherlands and Stefan J. Bos at BosNewsLife News Center).
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