Horror in Eritrea; a missions agency tells the story.

By March 21, 2006

Eritrea (MNN)–In May 2002, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki struck the first blow against evangelical churches. According to Compass Direct, he closed down all independent evangelical churches and refused to allow their members to meet anywhere for worship.

Although ordered to apply for legal registration, none of these churches have been granted government recognition. In the days since then, the campaign of oppression has been steadily increasing.

Today, nearly 1,800 Eritrean Christians are in custody because of their religious beliefs. In response, a petition protesting the widespread religious repression in Eritrea is headed for the Eritrean Ambassador to the United Kingdom. Open Doors’ Carl Moeller, describing the prison conditions as ‘deplorable’, says the persecution has another effect. “The church has to go underground, it has to go unregistered and it has to become a secretive organization where the Scriptures are passed from hand to hand in very covert ways, when gatherings are small and very quietly done, when hymns and songs of praise are whispered instead of sung.”

Moeller says most believers were originally in metal shipping containers (left in the sun), but were eventually moved to underground cells.

Those conditions were almost worse. For most Christians, they are placed in a dark isolation cell which is under the ground. There is no light, food is limited. Prisoners are only allowed out once a day.

The second kind of a cell measures 3 meters by 4 meters. Fourteen prisoners are placed in a cell this size and it is impossible to straighten their legs, leading to other serious health complications.

The third kind of cell is larger and can accommodate 20 prisoners. Prisoners are allowed outside once a day and may eat in the corridors and are allowed to go to the toilet. Prisoners from these cells are also used for hard labor.

The fourth kind of cell is similar to large tents. There are normally 300-350 prisoners in a unit and most prisoners are placed here before their release.

The imprisoned believers tell stories of both torture and execution, despite adamant government denials otherwise.

Moeller says despite the atrocities, persecution and desperate situations, not only is their story not forgotten, but there is also hope.

The church, Moeller says, is alive in Eritrea. “The most important thing that the church there asks of us is to ‘Remember us in prayer,’ and to get them what they need, the requirements that they need to move forward. The most important thing that they ask us for is prayer.”

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