WikiLeaks confirms inhumane treatment of prisoners in Eritrea

By January 31, 2011

Eritrea (MNN) — Information has been leaked via WikiLeaks cables confirming the unimaginably inhumane treatment of prisoners in Eritrea. At least 3,000 of those incarcerated are believers.

The cables followed the reports of the U.S. Embassy's interviews with an unnamed ex-prisoner who was able to catalogue his time in the Eritrean prison system with a smuggled journal. There was no mention as to whether or not the man was a Christian, but in a list of fellow prisoners, he mentioned Protestants.

"These cables show that the U.S. embassy there was actively looking into the persecution of Christians. They were interviewing Christians who had been incarcerated about the conditions," says Todd Nettleton with Voice of the Martyrs. "But it does go to confirm the things that we know about Eritrea, and that's that they are one of the world's worst persecutors of our Christian brothers and sisters."

In 2002, the Eritrean government closed down all evangelical churches and made any further meetings illegal. Since then, evangelical Christians have been targeted by police. There are currently reports of 3,000 people imprisoned for their faith in Christ.

The conditions of the prisons are horrifying. The WikiLeaks report notes that one man was held in a cell approximately 40 feet x 38 feet with 600 other prisoners. Most of the inmates were unable to talk due to lack of water. A small bucket in the middle of the crowd served as toilet facilities. He says his cellmates were "Eritreans who tried to flee the country, military deserters, common criminals, and Protestants (presumably of unregistered denominations)."

The prisoner also reports being tortured at obscure times without reason and walking past other prisoners being held in small, stuffy shipping containers. He remembers a time when 35 boys were arrested and tortured for attempting to cross into Ethiopia. Ethiopian personnel had sent the boys back because they were too young to cross alone. (View the full cables here.)

The WikiLeaks cables bear good news, in that the unjust treatment of Eritrean prisoners is gaining attention. Now pray that the specific unjust imprisonment of believers would be fought as well.

"The best response is to pray. We're talking about 3,000 Christians who are currently incarcerated. That's 3,000 people whose health is in danger, their safety is in danger, and they don't have enough to eat. That's some very specific prayer requests. It's simply that God would sustain through their time in jail, or in shipping containers, or in military camps–that God would sustain them. The second thing we can pray, though, is that God would encourage them."

Even knowing their possible fate, believers have continued their underground ministry ever since the 2002 law change.

"It changed the way they worked, but it didn't change the fact that they were doing the work, and that Christians were meeting together, that pastors were preaching sermons and encouraging people to follow Christ, and that Christians were reaching out, and telling others about the Gospel," Nettleton confirms.

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