Release International fears more arrests could follow in new religious clampdown.
Eritrean security forces have arrested 185 Christians following a raid on a prayer meeting to the north of the capital, Asmara. Most of those arrested are women.
‘Our Eritrean partners say church leaders fear this mass arrest could herald a new clampdown on Christians and a wave of further detentions,’ says Paul Robinson, Chief Executive of Release International, which serves the persecuted church worldwide.
It’s believed the Christians had gathered in the suburb of Maitemenai to pray about the worsening exodus of Eritreans from the country.
The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights reports thousands of Eritreans are fleeing their country every month, despite an alleged ‘shoot-to-kill policy’ targeting those who try to leave.
Eritrea is currently detaining up to 1,500 Christians because of their faith. Many others face harassment.
In 2002, the government shut down all churches not belonging to the Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran denominations, and arrested their leaders.
The government imposes severe restrictions on the religious groups it permits to operate, and persecutes leaders who are outspoken. The Patriarch of the Orthodox Church went missing in 2005.
The whereabouts of these latest detainees has not been officially confirmed but their relatives believe some are being held at a police station in Edaga Hamus, in an adjoining district.
‘The arrest has alarmed underground church leaders, who fear that this may be a sign of things to come,’ says Paul Robinson.
‘Please pray for the swift release of these 185 Christians. Pray too for the release of the estimated 1,500 other Christians detained in Eritrean jails. They are behind bars because of government hostility towards their Christian faith.’
Release has petitioned and campaigned for President Isaias Afewerki’s government to reform its repressive religious policies. CR
The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms.