A Forsaken Peace Deal

By Nathan Johnson
Asmara, Eritrea - December 1, 2012: People attending sunday mass in Enda Mariam church in the middle of Asmara town.

02/08/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – For years, a little-known her­mit country in Africa has been a terror to Christians and non-Christians alike. Employing some of the most inhumane policies on the continent, Eritrea has enforced indentured servitude to the military, zero freedom of speech or press, and complete control over all religious institutions. Making matters worse, offend­ers in Eritrea often face arrest and detention without due process.

Christians, including the rightful leader of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, have suffered decades-long imprisonment in unsanitary prisons. Many have died due to malnutrition, lack of healthcare, and abuse.

A source inside Eritrea explains it this way, “Eritrea is under a communist system that is controlled by its president, Isaias Afwerki. He is an ex-Evangelical Christian who declared, after the independence of Eritrea, that America is trying to control the world through missionaries.”

After Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1991, Afwerki solidified his power and rule. He has been leading the country with an iron grip ever since. His dictatorial regime has caused an estimated 10% of the popula­tion to seek asylum in other countries. Some died before escaping or were arrested while trying to flee the country.

Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians have borne the brunt of the tyranny. The government has complete control over all religious activ­ity. There are only three legal denominations: Lutheran, Eritrean Orthodox, and Catholic. To join one of these denominations, one must make four promises:

  1. They are not to be “born again.”
  2. They will be loyal only to the government.
  3. They will not carry a Bible outside of their home or church.
  4. If an applicant finds any missionaries, they will report the missionary to the police.

All of this was supposed to change a year and a half ago, when Eritrea and Ethiopia signed a peace deal. This action was met with world acclaim. Both sides hoped for a much brighter future. The border war had lasted from 1998 until September 2018. It cost more than 100,000 lives, severed ties between fami­lies, and ended all economic and diplomatic ties between the two countries. It ultimately helped establish Eritrea as one of the world’s most reclusive and oppressive states.

Along with all of the hope that both Eritreans and Ethiopians had about the new peace agree­ment, Eritrean Christians believed they would also benefit. As soon as flights from Ethiopia resumed, families reunited with those they had not seen in decades. An Ethiopian preacher, *Mazaa, flew to Asmara, Eritrea’s capital, to praise God and preach in the streets.

This hope was not long lived, however. Though there have been some small gains for the general population in Eritrea, Christians continue to suffer.

After Mazaa started preaching in the streets, it was reported that many of those who lis­tened to him were later arrested. All Catholic health clinics have been shut down. Many religious schools have been seized by the government. The “four promises” have not been changed or removed. All charges against Christians since 2002 have been re-opened, whether they were closed or not.

The backlash against Christians after the peace treaty may have nothing to do with the Church’s actions. A source inside Eritrea said, “No one really knows why that happened. What we know is that the president is scared more than ever and his health is not okay. [He is probably scared] because of the new media channel broadcasting from the UK against him, and so he has made serious harm to the Church and any gathering over five will be questioned or sometimes imprisoned.”

In 2019, hundreds of Christians were arrested. Many of them will likely never be freed from their illegal incarceration, but will suffer for years at the hands of their violent and hateful leaders. Please pray for our broth­ers and sisters, who are trapped inside their own country with no access to the freedom to worship.

However, we believe in hope for Eritrea. We have been distributing Scripture to hungry readers in the country and aiding victims of persecution at the hands of the government. Please join us in prayer for our brothers and sisters in Eritrea who continue to suffer daily for their faith, that one day they may worship in freedom.

*Name changed for security

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