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TRAGEDY IN ERITREA

Hundreds Of Evangelical Christians Held In Squalid Prison Cells

SANTA ANA, CA (ANS) — Since May 2002, the repressive regime of President Isaias Afwerki has closed down all independent evangelical churches and refused to allow their members to meet anywhere for worship, according to Compass Direct. Although ordered to apply for legal registration, none of these churches have been granted government recognition. Evangelical believers caught by the police while gathering in their homes are arrested and detained, often held incommunicado for months without charges. Nearly 1,800 Eritrean Christians are now believed to be under arrest because of their religious beliefs; held in police stations, military camps and prisons in 12 known locations across Eritrea , according to Compass. The jailed Protestants are routinely subjected to physical beatings and severe psychological pressure to deny their religious beliefs. Recently an Open Doors team visited persecuted Christians in Eritrea . The following are excerpts from a report:)

Prison Cells

One of our contacts gave a detailed account of the various conditions in the prisons in Eritrea . Before describing four kinds of cells, he commented on the situation of the five young people still being held captive and commented that they are all in cells number 1 (see explanation below). They are facing horrific situations but remain strong in the Lord. They were originally in metal shipping containers (placed in the hot sun) but were moved to underground cells.

One of the mothers was asked to visit them and convince them to sign a document stating that they will practice individual religion but not together with other believers. They were told that there are no restrictions in reading their Bibles and praying, but they were to do it individually and always on their own. Not one signed and they remain faithful.

The four kinds of prison cells, apart from the shipping containers, are:

1. The worst: A dark isolation cell which is under the ground. There is no light, food is limited and you are only allowed out once a day to relieve yourself. Urination has to be done in the cell. The heat is unbearable in summer. The isolation is terrible.

2. The second kind of a cell measures 3 meters by 4 meters. Fourteen prisoners are placed in a cell this size and it is impossible to straighten your legs when sleeping. Two Christians became paralyzed in one of these cells due to not being able to stretch their legs. Prisoners in these cells are only allowed to relieve themselves once a day in a corridor in the cell and also have to urinate in bags in the cell.

3. The third kind of cell is larger and can accommodate 20 prisoners. Prisoners are allowed outside once a day and may eat in the corridors and are allowed to go to the toilet. Prisoners from these cells are also used for hard labor.

4. The fourth kind of cell is similar to large tents. There are normally 300-350 prisoners in a unit and most prisoners are placed here before their release.

Testimonies

To Look Beyond the Horizon

One pastor shared how they visited a lady in a remote village. After she became a believer, she was kicked out of her house and her family regarded her as dead. She was forced to go to a remote construction site and live in one of the empty houses. She had nothing apart from an old carpet on the floor no belongings, no fellowship and no comfort. In the cold she would freeze, and summers were unbearable. As the pastor met with this sister, the question was obvious: Are you sad that you accepted Christ? The answer was even more obvious: No, I am not, because I look beyond the horizon, I look towards an eternity with God!

Faithful Unto Death

This detailed testimony by Caleb (not his real name) was given with tears and is an eyewitness account of the execution of six of his fellow believers in his military regiment.

The past five years have seen many atrocities, especially during the war. When I share this testimony, I want to emphasize that these were especially difficult times for believers. In my regiment alone I was eyewitness to five brothers and one sister who lost their lives because of their faith (at this stage, the tears were rolling down Caleb’s face). Apart from these six believers who died, many others were deliberately sent to dangerous areas because they were believers. Just like David sent Uriah to the front line in a situation where death was inevitable, so the believers were also sent to the front lines.

Many Christians died in such circumstances, especially women who were exposed to many dangers. Few believers in Eritrea know what really happened. The government would simply report that they died in action. I am an eyewitness. I know the names and how they died.

The six believers I refer to paid a similar price. First, they were told to deny their faith. When they refused, they were chained for weeks. When they still continued to serve Jesus, they were chained to the barrel of a tank and lifted up and down and sometimes taken for a drive. Again the question was asked, Are you ready to deny your faith? The answer always came as NO!

One evening three of them were taken from their cells and killed in execution style. It was later reported that they died in action, but I can testify that they were executed.

To Die Is Gain

I asked Caleb how his suffering and persecution influenced his life.

Our faith is to our God! I learned a lot in prison. I was in isolation for five months. I was in a cell in complete darkness under very bad conditions. After five months they moved me to a bigger cell. I immediately started sharing the gospel. When they discovered that I was evangelizing, they asked me if I have not learned my lesson. They threatened to punish me and send me back to the isolation cell. When they told me this, the words of Paul came to mind: For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. What I witnessed and experienced strengthened me more than it discouraged me.