By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) – Eritrean authorities have detained 15 Christians during a series of raids on their houses in the capital city of Asmara, well-informed sources said Thursday.
All 15 believers had been previously imprisoned for their faith – some for up to 16 years, according to Christians familiar with the situation.
The Voice Of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC) advocacy group told Worthy News that the reported detentions come as another setback said for devoted Eritrean Christians. “Over the past year, numerous Christian prisoners in this East African nation have been released, leading to some speculation that a change in policy may be imminent. However, these recent arrests, together with that of three elderly pastors in late July, demonstrate that the persecution of Christians is still taking place in the country,” VOMC added.
All 15 of the recently detained Christians were released last summer, but they were reportedly apprehended again after a list of Christian contacts was discovered by the authorities.
The rearrested believers were all taken to the Mai Serwa maximum security prison in Asmara, the capital, Christians said. There are now an estimated 160 Christians being held captive in prisons throughout Eritrea, according to VOMC estimates.
VOMC said it had urged prayers for those detained and their families some of whom “endure years of separation without being permitted to visit their imprisoned loved ones.”
Christians from non-traditional denominations face the harshest persecution in Eritrea from the government and the state-controlled Eritrean Orthodox Church (EOC), according to rights investigators.
The EOC, the Catholic church, and the Lutheran church are the only denominations recognized
by the government.
Almost half of Eritreans are Christians – 2.6 million from a population of 5.4 million –, but authorities target Christians expressing their faith outside state-approved worship.
“Government security forces monitor phone calls, scrutinize activity and conduct countless raids which target Christians, seize Christian materials and damage house churches,” said advocacy group Open Doors.
“Christians can be arrested and imprisoned without trial. Many Christians are held in inhumane prisons because of their faith, and their loved ones often do not know where they are or even if they are still alive,” it added.
Christian women are especially facing abuse, said Christians familiar with the situation. Among them are Christian female conscripts in the army who are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence, Christians explained.
Also, jailed female Christians often experience violence from prison guards, according to Open Doors investigators.
Additionally, in rural areas of Eritrea, abduction and forced marriage are still prevalent and a Christian woman abducted by a Muslim faces a forced conversion to Islam, Christians said.
Yet a pastor identified as Musse, which isn’t his real name, said that in prison, he continued evangelizing. “We saw many conversions. The Gospel can’t be chained!” he added in comments distributed by Open Doors.
Musse spent six years behind bars after being detained for pastoring an ‘unregistered church.’
Before that detention, he reportedly was a victim of Eritrean government surveillance for years. However, Musse said he managed to “live for Jesus” even in prison.
“In prison, one of my main purposes as a Christian was to evangelize,” he recalled. “Of course, it is forbidden to do it openly, but we did it at night when everybody was asleep. We even had Bible verses we could study in secret.”
Sometimes, he claimed, “there were very problematic people who used to inform on us. They would tell the guards, ‘Musse is preaching, teaching, and doing other Christian things.’ There were people like that, yes.”
However, he also met those “passing through different frustrations and depression.” He noted that “Those people loved what we taught and shared. Some of them even tried to cover for us. We saw many conversions.”
Musse says he remains under close and constant surveillance, forced to report to his local police station regularly to show that he has not fled the country. Every time he goes there, he risks re-arrest. “Please continue praying for us,” asks his wife, identified as Ruth, which is not her real name. “We need prayers so that we live without worry and keep calm.”
There were no signs that autocratic President Isaias Afwerki would ease restrictions for devoted Christian as he fights perceived threats to his power base.
He has governed Eritrea since it became an independent country in 1993. His People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDF) is the only political party.
Presidential elections scheduled for 1997 never took place, and a constitution ratified in the same year was never implemented, further underlining the plight of Christians, experts say.
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