Mass arrests in Eritrea concern ministry

By January 13, 2009

Eritrea (MNN) — Mass arrests of
Christians in Eritrea are raising concerns for the welfare of the church. 

Glenn Penner with 
Voice of the Martyrs Canada notes: "Eritrea is probably the most-closed country in Africa
today."

Arrests began in November in Keren, Eilabered,
Hagaz, Adi Tekelezan, and Deki Zeru, with additional raids in Dekemhare, Adi Quala, Areza and
Mendefera.

By December, "The detention spread northwards, and
approximately 100 Christians have been detained, transferred to a military
facility,  and some were reportedly
severely mistreated. There were even reports that an unspecified number may
have died due to  untreated injuries
that were sustained while they were in detention." 

Officials were reportedly working
off of a list of names provided by informants around the country.

Voice of the Martyrs Canada says Eritrean
officials have denied religious persecution but say they want to guard against
sects and dangerous outside influences. Authorities
continue to insist all of those arrested are behind bars for reasons other than
practicing their faith. The government
stands behind its 2004 statement that "no groups or persons are persecuted
in Eritrea for their beliefs or religion."

Yet, in May 2002, the government banned
and closed of all independent churches not operating under the umbrella of the
Orthodox, Lutheran, Catholic, and Muslim religious structures.

Today, Voice of the Martyrs
Canada believes at least 2,000 Eritrean Christians are held without charges in
local prisons of military camps and in shipping containers. Officials hope the inhumane circumstances
might pressure believers to abandon their faith in Christ.

The Voice of the Martyrs team is
trying to encourage believers because  "the Gospel is continuing to go forward," says Penner. "The Eritrean Christians are continuing to
start churches and to do evangelistic work, but certainly, they do so at a
great risk. Undoubtedly, there are those who are fearing for their lives and
fleeing the country, but the Gospel is continuing to go forward."

Pray for the release of
imprisoned Christians. Ask God to work in the hearts of Eritrea's leaders.

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