Eritrean government shuts down Christian-run health centres

Christian migrants from Eritrea and Ethiopia pray during Sunday mass at a makeshift church in "The New Jungle" near Calais, FranceREUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

Christian-run health centres in Eritrea have been unexpectedly shut down by the government in its latest act of hostility towards Christians in the country.

Administrators of the health centres were ordered to sign a document consenting to the decision but when they refused, they were removed from the buildings and the centres were closed down. 

Open Doors, which supports persecuted Christians in the country, said it was not known why the Eritrean government had closed down the health centres but it follows the arrest of 30 underground Christians earlier this month. 

The Christians arrested belong to a Pentecostal church.  Eritrea only recognises three denominations, the Eritrean Orthodox Church (EOC), whose patriarch is appointed by the government, the Roman Catholic Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church. 

Christians must be registered to one of these three denominations.  Those who refuse face harassment and persecution, including imprisonment. 

It had been hoped that the peace deal signed between Eritrea and Ethiopia in April would ease some of the pressure on Christians. 

At the time, Catholic bishops in the country called for a national reconciliation process that would ensure justice for everyone and outlined their vision for healing and closer community in a 30-page letter. 

They also called on the government to introduce reforms that would stop people wanting to leave the country.

However, another 141 Christians were arrested in May. Hundreds more remain in prison, some of whom have been held behind bars for over a decade. 

Eritrea is ranked seventh on the Open Doors World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the worst persecution for their faith.

Christians who meet outside of the three recognised denominations are subject to frequent house raids and imprisonment.  Others are punished with forced labour in commercial flower fields or held in shipping containers, where temperatures swing between freezing at night and scorching during the day.