Tuesday, November 13, 2012

RLPB 185. Eritrea: Christian prisoners and refugees suffering unimaginably

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 185 | Wed 14 Nov 2012


By Elizabeth Kendal

Eritrea, in the Horn of Africa on the Red Sea coast, has one of the most brutally repressive dictatorships in the world. The population is equally divided between Christians (90 percent Eritrean Orthodox) who live mostly in the highlands and Muslims who live mostly in the coastal lowlands. Eritrea won its independence from Ethiopia in 1991 and Isayas Afewerki has been the president since independence was declared and internationally recognised in 1993. In 2001, in the wake of a two-year border war with Ethiopia (1998-2000), Afewerki began cracking down hard on anything that could be viewed as a threat to national unity. He cancelled elections and closed all independent media. Opposition figures -- politicians, activists and journalists -- were removed, mostly to underground 'secret prisons' for the 'disappeared'.

In May 2002, reportedly at the behest of the Eritrean Orthodox Church (EOC), the government began cracking down on 'foreign' and 'non-traditional' religion. A Biblical revival and renewal movement had exploded within the EOC. While some priests accommodated or even embraced the movement, others resisted, forcing those desiring a more evangelical Christianity to leave the EOC for Protestant fellowships. The exodus has caused great angst in the hierarchy of the EOC. Now only state-sanctioned Muslim, Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Mekane Yesus (Evangelical Lutheran) denominations are legal and worshipping in a Protestant fellowship is a criminal offence. However, by mid-2005 the authorities were oppressing the EOC as well, specifically those EOC priests supportive of the renewal movement and protesting religious persecution. When EOC head, Patriarch Abune Antonios, complained about the persecution of his priests, Afewerki had him deposed, placed under house arrest and replaced with a government administrator.

By the end of 2010 an estimated 3000 Eritrean Christians of all denominations (mostly Protestant) were incarcerated purely for their faith; today the number is estimated at around 1500. Whilst most prisoners are held in shipping containers in desert camps, some are kept in underground 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. An Amnesty International report published in May 2004 details the tortures suffered by Christian prisoners.Several Christians have died in custody and others have perished in the desert trying to escape.

Because Eritrea has no independent media, news of persecution is difficult to obtain for it must be leaked at great personal risk. Open Doors (OD) reports that on 30 October a Christian by the name of Adris Ali Mohammed (31), a Muslim convert from the town of Tesenai, died in custody. Adris had spent almost two years in a suffocating dungeon located in Eritrea's Aderset Military Camp, where some 100 Christians are believed to be detained. According to sources, Adris had stood firm through two years of terrible suffering and systematic torture aimed at forcing him to renounce his faith. According to OD, 'Military officials secretly buried Adris outside the camp.'

The repression has created a refugee crisis with many Christians amongst them. In July The Guardian reported that the Eritrea military runs a business kidnapping Eritrean refugees out of refugee camps in Sudan and trafficking them into the Sinai where they are sold to Bedouin gangs 'who use starvation, electrocution, rape and murder to extort up to $40,000 from relatives in the Eritrean diaspora for their release'. (See also NYT, 31 Oct 2012, for horrific details.) According to Strategic Policy magazine (4, 2012) Maj-Gen. Tekle 'Manjus' Kiflai has been identified as the 'co-ordinator of the human smuggling operation' which reportedly serves as 'a major revenue source for the PFDJ', the ruling People's Front for Democracy and Justice. This very powerful Maj-Gen. Tekle, an ethnic 'Christian', is rumoured to be a possible successor to Afewerki. Eritrea also funds, arms and trains anti-Ethiopian forces across the region, as well as rebels fighting against the Government of South Sudan.

But change is looming. For many years Afewerki had been funded and propped up by Gadhafi (Libya) and Mubarak (Egypt). With these two backers now removed, Eritrea's principal ally is US-allied, Islamist Qatar which is fully occupied trying to orchestrate regime change in Damascus, Syria. Furthermore, Afewerki is so unwell that when he disappeared in March, rumours circulated that he had died. Eventually he quelled those rumours by making an appearance on State TV on 29 April. Afewerki allegedly has a liver complaint for which he has received medical treatment in Qatar. Whilst Eritrea is ripe for change, the rot runs deep.


* interpose himself in Eritrea to bring deep and radical change; may he bring judgment on all who trade in suffering and terror and bring an end to belligerence and repression. May he open the door to a new era of justice, liberty and peace, to his glory.

'In my distress I called upon the LORD . . . and my cry to him reached his ears. Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry. He rescued me, because he delighted in me.' (Psalm 18:6,7,19b ESV)

* have mercy on his sorely persecuted Church. Lord, comfort and protect them, sustaining them in body and soul, especially prisoners and refugees. Lord, provide all their needs, fanning their faith into flame so they may not lose hope; may their trust be in you.

* redeem this era of intensive persecution by refining and unifying the Eritrean Church and use their stories of faithfulness to soften the hearts and open the eyes of multitudes.


Eritrea has one of the most brutal dictatorships worldwide and the repression has created a refugee crisis. Since May 2002 Christians have been severely persecuted and an estimated 1500 are suffering torture and appalling prison conditions today, simply for their faith. With no independent media, news is extremely difficult to obtain. Open Doors reports that on 30 October a Christian Muslim convert, Adris Ali Mohammed (31), died in custody after two years of systematic torture aimed at forcing him to renounce his faith. Christians in refugee camps are no safer as the Eritrean military runs a lucrative operation on behalf of the government, trafficking them to Bedouin gangs in the Sinai. Please pray for Eritrean Christians and that God will effect deep and radical change in Eritrea.