Wednesday, May 19, 2010

056. Eritrea: more arrests; relentless persecution

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 056 | Wed 19 May 2010


Christianity came to Ethiopia-Eritrea in the early 4th Century, brought into the court of King Ezana by two Syrian merchants, Frumentius and Aedesius. Today Eritrea is around 50 percent Christian, with more than 90 percent of all Eritrean Christians belonging to the Eritrean Orthodox Church (EOC). In recent decades a Biblical revival movement known as 'Medhane Alam' (lit. Saviour of the World) has grown within the EOC. While some priests and churches have been accommodating, even open, others have resisted, some aggressively, forcing those seeking a more evangelical Christianity to leave the EOC for Protestant fellowships. The exodus has caused great angst in the hierarchy of the EOC.

Following a second war with Ethiopia (1998-2000), the government cracked down hard in 2001 on anything it viewed as a potential threat to national unity. They cancelled elections, closed down all independent media, rounded up and imprisoned their political opponents and repressed all civil opposition. In May 2002, reportedly at the behest of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the government also cracked down on 'foreign' and 'non-traditional' religion, banning all churches other than the state-sanctioned Muslim, Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Mekane Yesus (Evangelical Lutheran) denominations.

If the EOC thought it could support a cruel, totalitarian regime's religious repression and then trust that regime to protect it, then it was naive indeed. By 2005 the regime was repressing the EOC, sending its priests into military service, and removing and detaining 'dissident' priests who objected to the persecution of Medhane Alam. When EOC Patriarch Abune Antonios protested the attacks on his own church, he was removed from office (defrocked). He was placed under house arrest in January 2006 and replaced with a government political appointee, Mr Yoftahe Dimetros. Today the EOC -- its priests, properties, funds and historic manuscripts -- is under the control of the regime.

Eritrea is now one of the most repressive, human-rights-abusing states in the world. The repression has created a refugee crisis, and many of them are Christians. The Army has orders to shoot to kill anyone who tries to flee across the border. An estimated 3000 Christians, mostly Protestants, are in prison for their faith. Some are in military prisons and some have been 'disappeared' into the State's network of secret underground prisons. Prison conditions are inhumane and torture is routine. A number of Christians have died in custody and many others have been crippled and scarred for life. Eritrean authorities arrested eleven more Christians on 9 May. International Christian Concern reports that Pastor Mesfin, Pastor Tekie and Mr Isaac and his four children were arrested, as well as four women while conducting a prayer meeting in a private home in the capital, Asmara. They are all members of Faith Church of Christ which has existed in Eritrea since 1950 but was banned in 2002.

Eritrea's President Isayas Afewerki denies there is any religious persecution in Eritrea. Because there is no free media, Eritrean Christians have to risk their life and liberty to leak information of their plight to the outside world.


* protect his besieged and threatened Church, hiding it in the shadow of his wings (Psalm 17:8) 'Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.' (Psalm 57:1 ESV)

* use this time of trial to bring repentance and revival to the once hostile Eritrean Orthodox and Catholic Churches and unity to the body of Christ in Eritrea. 'By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.' (John 13:35 ESV)

* bring down the Eritrean President Isayas Afewerki, a dictator who thinks 'There is no God' (Psalm 10:4), and 'I shall not be moved' (v6). Lift up your hand Lord (v12) and call him to account (v13).

'O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more' (Psalm 10:17,18 ESV).



The totalitarian regime of Eritrean President Isayas Afewerki banned all religious groups -- mainly Protestant -- other than the state-sanctioned Muslim, Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Mekane Yesus (Evangelical Lutheran) denominations in May 2002. Then the Eritrean Orthodox Church was attacked during 2005 and by January 2006 was entirely under the control of the regime. Today around 3000 mostly Protestant Christians are in prison for their faith. Prison conditions are inhumane and torture is routine. Some believers have died in custody whilst many have been crippled and scarred for life. The regime denies there is any religious persecution in Eritrea. Eritrea has no free media and information on the plight of the Church is leaked out at great personal risk. Please pray for the Church in Eritrea. (Psalm 10)