(Compass Direct News) -- In a large-scale roundup the past week, Eritrean authorities have detained 150 Christians from at least five of the countryâ€™s outlawed churches.
Starting at 6 a.m. last Wednesday (October 25), security officers in the town of Mendefera began going from house to house, arresting local Christians from a list they compiled of known members of Pentecostal churches and the Orthodox renewal movement.
During the first dayâ€™s raids, a total of 38 men and 17 women were incarcerated at the military fort in Mendefera, 30 miles south of Asmara. Local sources confirmed to Compass that police authorities were subjecting the detained Christians to beatings and other physical mistreatment.
According to eyewitnesses, at least 10 nursing mothers were among the new prisoners, all of them forced to leave their infants behind.
The arrested Christians included members of the Church of the Living God as well as the Kale Hiwot, Full Gospel, and Rema churches. Active members of the townâ€™s Orthodox revival group were also picked up and detained.
The roundup continued the following morning, October 26, when an even larger total of 95 evangelical Christians were reportedly put under arrest.
According to sources in Mendefera, a local pastor jailed there eight months ago was recently hospitalized with severe injuries. Pastor Iyob Berhe from the Kale Hiwot Church had been subjected to harsh military punishments requiring emergency medical treatment in the Mendefera Public Hospital.
Berhe has since been transferred back to the Mendefera police station, where he remains under arrest for refusing to sign papers recanting his evangelical beliefs and activities.
Last weekâ€™s arrests push the confirmed number of Eritrean citizens known to be jailed solely for their religious beliefs up to 2,078. Mostly Christian but including some Muslims, none of those incarcerated have been brought to trial by the authoritarian regime.
Of the 162 Christians arrested this month, two young men were beaten to death at a military camp near Adi-Quala on October 17, two days after their arrest.
In May 2002, Eritrea closed down all independent religious groups not operating under the umbrella of the government-sanctioned Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran or Muslim faiths. Independent Protestant churches have been refused legal registration, and even the Orthodox Churchâ€™s patriarch and its flourishing renewal movement have fallen out of favor.
Anyone caught worshipping outside the four recognized religious institutions, even in private homes, has been subjected to arrest, torture and severe pressure to deny their faith.
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