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01/22/2024 Eritrea (International Christian Concern) – Called “Africa’s North Korea” by some, Eritrea is ruled by an oppressive, totalitarian government that is openly hostile to religion. Although Eritrea is roughly split between Christians and Muslims, the government, led by the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), under Isais Afwerki, has consistently restricted religious practice.

There are an estimated 400-500 Christian prisoners of faith in the country, none of whom have received a trial or even been charged with a crime. Religious prisoners are often subjected to long or indefinite terms in prisons where they suffer unimaginably inhumane conditions.
“The world needs to wake up to the atrocities taking place in Eritrea today,” said ICC’s Africa Regional Director. “Not only are Christians imprisoned, tortured, and killed, but the everyday person lives under the oppression of an authoritative regime, dictated by Isaias Afwerki, a ruthless leader with a totalitarian agenda.”

International Christian Concern (ICC) recently provided emergency food supplies and audio bibles to persecuted Eritrean believers. While not much can be shared about the dangerous trip made through a courageous partner, interviews with former prisoners were conducted, which revealed harrowing details of the suffering Christians in the country endure.

In one instance, despite the endless torture he faced and separation from other inmates, one pastor disclosed secretly baptizing 50 believers by collecting toilet and shower water in a barrel. “It’s very tough, especially for Christians,” he said regarding the prison conditions. “Even though they are preventing us [from seeing other prisoners], so many people, even fighters and the prisoners, are receiving Jesus Christ as their personal savior.”

Former inmates at Mai Serwa, a prison in Eritrea’s capital, Asmara, have reported being held in shipping containers – each holding 8-22 detainees and extremely susceptible to the extreme weather swings of the desert around them. According to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCR), “Inmates are subjected to total darkness, which increases their suffering. A torture chamber made of concrete is reportedly located at the back of the containers. [One] detainee… was interrogated and tortured four nights per week for two months.”

The systematic persecution, arbitrary detention, torture, and inhumane treatment of religious minorities and those who dare to challenge the government’s authority amount to crimes against humanity. The international community must continue to raise awareness of these atrocities and advocate for the restoration of religious freedom and human rights in Eritrea.