Eritrean Government Releases 35 Christian Prisoners of Conscience

Hope Remains for Hundreds Still in Captivity

07/26/2018 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that the Eritrean government has released 35 Christian prisoners. According to ICC’s inside source, Simon*, the 35 were released in the middle of last week. To be released on bail, someone had to promise to pay 300,000 Nakfa. “This is an amount that must be paid by a person with a business license that [has] already warranted the prisoner, in case the prisoner disappears,” shared Simon. The cost of bail equals roughly 20,000 USD, which would be a crippling amount of money for these individuals and their families to have to pay. This exorbitant cost is a way of ensuring that these prisoners do not escape the country and can easily lead to their re-arrest.

The 35 were released from Mai-Sirwa Prison, one of the dozens of prisons that continue to hold prisoners of conscience. According to Asmarino Independent, 11 of the prisoners were women, while the other 24 were young men. However, none of those who have been released were religious leaders. All of the prisoners of conscience who are priests and pastors remain in captivity at this time, many of whom have been in prison for nearly 20 years. According to our sources, there are at least 314 Christian prisoners still being held for their faith.

At present, there is only speculation as to why these 35 were released. Due to the extremely reclusive nature of Eritrea, news is scarce and many Christians have no way of communicating with those outside of the country. For the past decade, Eritrea ranked as the worst country for freedom of press by Reporters Without Borders. They were only recently passed in 2017 by North Korea.

Many are hopeful that the recent peace agreement with Ethiopia has opened up borders and will bring peace to the country. However, there is still much to be done to correct the many human rights violations that have taken place throughout the past two decades. There must also be a fundamental change in ideology for the country to become truly free. President Afwerki made this clear in 2014 when he said, “Those who think there will be democracy in this country can think so in another world.”  

Furthermore, it is not only Christians who are under attack in Eritrea. Journalists, military objectors, and political opponents all face similar consequences. As a result, Eritrea is known as the “North Korea of Africa” because of its complete disregard for human rights. “We thank God for the dozens of changes he is doing in the two countries, Ethiopia and Eritrea, especially Eritrea. Still there is no concrete stand on the side of the government on what to decide about religious freedom,” Simon concluded.

Nathan Johnson, ICC’s Regional Manager for Africa, said, “We are rejoicing to hear of the release of these prisoners. However, there are still hundreds more being held illegally by their government’s totalitarian regime. We will continue to pray and work on behalf of those in Eritrea who are forced to hide from their own tyrannical government simply because of their faith. We hope to see an opening of Eritrea to true freedom, and are thankful to Ethiopia for ending the war.”

For interviews with Nathan Johnson, Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: press@persecution.org

*Name changed for security

ICC is on a mission to help persecuted Christians. Will you join us?