(CP) Thirteen Eritrean Christians have been released from prison after being falsely imprisoned for 10 years, according to The Voice of the Martyrs Christian ministry, which said the prisoners included seven women and six men who were released as part of a campaign it initiated.
The Christians were released about two weeks ago after VOM called on Christians to pray for the release of two Eritrean church leaders and provided information to help Christians contact the Eritrean Embassy on behalf of imprisoned Christians, the ministry said in a statement shared with The Christian Post.
After the ministry launched the campaign on July 22, more than 10,000 people responded, and just six days later, VOM received word from its ministry partners in Eritrea about the release of the 13 believers.
"We thank the Lord for the freedom of these brothers and sisters who have been released from prison in Eritrea. We thank Him for intervening on behalf of these 13," said Todd Nettleton, VOM's spokesperson.
Nettleton, who met with and interviewed Christians in Eritrea in 2004, expressed gratitude for the 10,000 people who responded to the ministry's email and encouraged believers to continue praying.
"Don't stop praying," he said. "There are still more than 300 Christians in Eritrean prisons. Don't stop being a voice for them to the Eritrean Embassy."
The imprisoned pastors who were the focus of the letter writing campaign, Pastor Haile Nayzgi and Kiflu Gebremeskel, have also not been released, VOM clarified.
Eritrea is classified as a "restricted nation" due to the government's ongoing persecution of Christians, according to the ministry's 2023 Global Prayer Guide.
All churches outside the Orthodox, Catholic, and Lutheran denominations were ordered to close by the government in 2002.
Last October, Bishop Fikremariam Hagos, the first bishop of the Catholic Eparchy of Segheneity, Fr. Abraham Habtom Gebremariam from the Capuchin Society in Teseney town, and Fr. Mihretab Stefanos of St. Michael's Church in Segheneity were arrested, possibly because the Catholic leaders had called for justice and reconciliation in Eritrea.
Eritrea's persecuted Christians often disappear without a trace, and prison conditions are among the harshest in the world. Inmates are kept in shipping containers, and believers are often tortured.
Eritrea's President Isaias Afewerki, a member of the Eritrean Orthodox Church in Asmara, belongs to one of the only three Christian denominations allowed to function in the country. Afewerki, 75, the leader of the ruling People's Front for Democracy and Justice Party, has a reputation for being a ruthless autocrat.
His policy of restrictions is driven more by fear that religion will mobilize people as a political force than religion itself.
The global watchdog organization Open Doors USA previously reported that there are possibly more than 1,000 Christians imprisoned in Eritrea, with none formally charged.