01/22/2024 Eritrea (International Christian Concern) – Aman broke down and wept openly at a church in Ethiopia. The pastor of the church asked the man what caused his anguish. Distraught, the man revealed that he is an Eritrean Christian who had just fled Eritrea as a refugee. While attempting to cross the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea, he and his son were separated. After three weeks of searching refugee camps, he received the worst news any parent can get: his son was shot and killed by Eritrean border guards.
“I came to Ethiopia to take my son away from persecution. Now I must continue on without him,” cried the grieving father.
Unfortunately, this story is all too common for Christians living in Africa’s most repressive country. While no one knows the exact number of believers living in Eritrea, one thing is known for certain: they are among the most persecuted on the planet.
AFRICA’S MOST REPRESSIVE REGIME
Eritrea is a small but strategically located nation in the Horn of Africa. After 30 years of war with Ethiopia, Eritrea officially became an independent country in 1993. Since independence, the country has been ruled by President Isaias Afwerki, the former leader of the independence movement. After initially leading the country toward democracy, the Afwerki regime became increasingly repressive to stay in control. His regime only allowed people to worship within one of the official state religions which include four denominations of Christianity. Within these official state religions, the Afwerki regime exercises near complete control significantly curtailing any real religious freedom in Eritrea.
In 2002, the Afwerki regime attempted to help its international image regarding religious freedom by allowing religious groups outside the official state religions to register with the government to worship legally. To register, religious communities must provide detailed financial and membership information, as well as background on all their activities in Eritrea. The 2002 declaration began a series of raids where Eritrean officials arrested Christians on foundationless grounds. At the end of 2005, there was an estimated 1,750 Christians held in prisons and military camps. Currently, the estimate of prisoners without a trial or even a crime charged to their name is approximately 500, with hundreds more imprisoned with charges such as blasphemy or apostasy.
Since the 2002 registration requirement came into existence, no religious group has passed the registration process. For now, all religious activity outside of the highly regulated official state religions is still illegal. Christians caught conducting religious activities, even something as simple as a Bible study at home, can be arrested, subjected to torture, and possibly executed under charges of treason.
“Eritrea remains one of the worst examples of state-sponsored repression of freedom of religion or belief in the world…Eritrean authorities conducted waves of door-to-door searches and arrests of individuals because of their religious identity, and increased oppression of Pentecostal and Evangelical Christian communities,” said Thomas Reese, USCIRF Commissioner.
To read more stories like this, sign up for ICC’s free monthly magazine.