Eritrea (MNN) — The country of Eritrea is the 10th harshest persecutor of Christians in the world, according to Open Doors’ World Watch List. And last month, another blow was struck on religious freedom in the country.
Nearly 100 Christians were arrested as the paranoid Eritrean government cracks down on unapproved churches outside the four approved religious denominations. The arrests resulted from door-to-door interrogations, accusations from neighbors, and even the disruption of a post-wedding gathering.
Open Doors USA’s Emily Fuentes explains, “In Eritrea, the situation at surface level would seem like there’s religious freedom. They allow for certain denominations of Christians to meet openly…. So, [for example], the Orthodox churches are totally okay in Eritrea. The problem is, anyone who is not part of a particular denomination that is approved by the government — and there’s only four — if they meet in their homes, if they do anything, it’s considered a crime.”
The four allowed religious denominations in the country are Sunni Islam, Orthodox Christian, Catholic Christian, and Evangelical Lutheran. But the Eritrean government still seeks to have a vice grip of control over even the approved denominations.
In 2007, political authorities went so far as to depose the Patriarch Abune Antonios of the Eritrean Orthodox Church. He is still under house arrest 10 years later, and friends and family worry that his health may be failing without proper medical care.
Antonios had upset the government when he refused to “excommunicate 3,000 members of the Medhane Alem Orthodox Sunday School revival movement, and demanded that the government release imprisoned Christians accused of treason,” according to World Watch Monitor.
This move by the Eritrean government violated the Orthodox Church’s constitution. Antonios is still recognized by Eritrean Churches in Diaspora and by Oriental Orthodox Churches as the rightful EOC Patriarch.
So if that’s what the Eritrean government does to prominent leaders of approved denominations in the country, the fate is harsher for Christians who meet outside the approved denominational churches.
“They’re rounded up and put into storage container prisons many times. Eritrea is on the eastern side of the continent of Africa where it gets extremely hot. These people are sometimes locked in storage containers with very little air ventilation and up to 120 degree heat. [They] often get sick from the lack of hygiene in these places, and often don’t get the food they require to stay nourished. So it’s a horrific place for Christians who don’t fall into the approved denominations.”
Eritrea frequently commits human rights violations like this, and thousands continue to flee the country. But with nearly half the population unreached with the Gospel, Christians are still witnessing their faith.
“People have to be extremely careful of how they practice their faith, who they share their faith with, because if they get discovered, it means one of these horrific situations like these storage container prison camps,” says Fuentes.
“But people are still willing to risk it all for the sake of the Gospel. People are still evangelizing in this country. There are pastors having small groups and churches meet together. So you find the Gospel spreads in spite of all the fear tactics that are taking place from the government.”
Want to be an encouragement in this situation? Fuentes suggests, “First and foremost is absolutely be praying for their protection, for more freedoms, [and] for less human rights violations. We’ve got some specific ways you can pray on the country page of our website.”
“Additionally, an advocacy standpoint that many readers and listeners can take is by signing our petition to President Trump asking him to appoint an International Religious Freedom [Ambassador]-at-Large. This commissioner evaluates the world, but specifically where there are hot areas of persecution against religious minorities. In many countries, that’s the number one minority is Christian.”