Eritrea steps up its persecution of Christians.

By January 7, 2004

Eritrea (MNN)–Open Doors reports that Eritrean police have arrested and jailed another Protestant evangelical pastor, taking him and seven of his church members to prison.

Pastor Iyob of the Kale Hiwot Church was arrested off the street on November 23 in Mendefera, a market town about 30 miles south of the capital of Asmara.

In separate arrests the same day, seven of his church members, four men and three women, were taken into custody, according to Compass Direct. Friends of the jailed Christians have not yet been able to confirm the alleged charges against the pastor and his church members.

A second new arrest of 10 young women from various Pentecostal churches has also been confirmed. The women are incarcerated at Sawa, a military training camp in the mountains near the Sudanese border, where they were presumed to be doing their compulsory military service.

Six of the 62 young people locked into metal containers at Sawa this past summer for having Bibles are believed to still be jailed in underground isolation cells at this same camp.

Fourteen women soldiers, along with 63 men, are still being held at Assab, where authorities have used torture, isolation and cruel threats to try to force them to retract their evangelical beliefs.

According to lists compiled by local Protestants, currently at least 334 evangelical believers are imprisoned for their religious beliefs in nine known locations across Eritrea, a country of 4 million located on the Red Sea in East Africa.

While some were arrested by police during meetings for worship in either unrecognized church buildings or private homes, others were accused of possessing Bibles or refusing to return to membership in the dominant Eritrean Orthodox Church.

The Eritrean government has targeted the country’s 12 independent Pentecostal and charismatic churches since May 2002, when all were ordered to close their churches and stop meeting for worship, even in private homes. Only the Orthodox, Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran and Muslim faiths are recognized as “official” religions.

“It is apparent that the Eritrean government stepped up its persecution of evangelical Christians in 2003,” says Open Doors USA President Dr. Carl Moeller. “We need to take action now. Please prayer for our brothers and sisters there and also consider writing letters to protest the treatment of evangelical Christians. You can make a difference!”

Open Doors with Brother Andrew has started a prayer and writing campaign to support our brothers and sisters in Eritrea. Listed below are a few prayer requests. For more prayer requests and information on how and where to send letters of protest, go to the Open Doors USA web site at www.odusa.org.

Pray for the leaders of the evangelical/Protestant congregations. Pray that they will have faith in God, that they will believe His Word and that they will understand their calling and appointment as shepherds of the flock.

Pray for the members of the congregations. Pray for maturity in their lives and that they will remain faithful to their leaders and fellow Christians. Ask the Lord to bless them with initiative to find ways to encourage and strengthen each other daily.

Pray for those in prison. Ask the Lord to bless them in a special way each day in order for them to remain faithful to their calling as believers. Ask the Lord to protect them against abuse (especially the women).

Pray for the families of those in prison. Many of the family members are not believers. Pray that they will be amazed by the willingness of their loved ones to suffer for what they believe.

An estimated 200 million Christians worldwide suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ, with another 200 to 400 million facing discrimination and alienation. Open Doors, founded almost 50 years ago by Brother Andrew, author of the best-selling book “God’s Smuggler,” serves and strengthens the Persecuted Church in the world’s most difficult areas through training, Bible and literature distribution, community development and personal encouragement.

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