Eritrea: 98 Christians detained

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The Eritrean authorities continue to hold 98 Christians who were arrested during a raid on an underground church in September.

According to a Release International partner, the authorities raided premises where Christians were gathered for worship.

They seized 150 believers during the raid on the Godaif district in the southern part of the capital, Asmara.

Shortly afterwards, the authorities released some women with children, but they are still holding 98 Christians in Mai Serwa prison.

300+ Christians jailed

There are now believed to be more than 300 Christians imprisoned for their faith in Eritrea. Many are detained indefinitely, without charge and without trial. Some, who have refused to renounce their faith, have been kept behind bars for upwards of 15 years.

Eritrean Christians have just marked 20 years of state persecution. The East African dictatorship shut down most of its churches in May 2002, outlawing every religion except Sunni Islam, Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholicism and the Lutheran Church.

Most of the Christian prisoners are believed to be Pentecostal or Evangelical. Even registered churches come under tight control in this authoritarian nation.

Christians who continue to worship in banned congregations are regarded as enemies of the state. And any believers in the armed services caught practising their faith face imprisonment.

Shipping containers

Some have been kept in steel shipping containers, exposed to the searing desert heat by day and the bitter cold by night. Some have been beaten and tortured to try to force them to renounce their faith.

The prison authorities ban praying aloud, singing, preaching, or reading religious books.

Yet Release International's partner believes many prisoners have come to faith in Christ because of the faithful witness of Christians who have been jailed for their faith.