International community urged to act after death of Eritrean church leader in prison

(Photo: Release International)

Appeals have been made to the international community to put pressure on Eritrea to uphold religious liberty after the death of a church leader in prison. 

Rev Ghirmay Araya was one of the founding fathers of the Full Gospel Church in Eritrea and was arrested and jailed for his faith in 2021, despite never being charged with any crime.

He died last week aged 83 while still being held at the maximum-security Wengel Mermera Central Criminal Investigation Centre.

His supporters told Release International, a charity supporting persecuted Christians, that Rev Araya "endured his suffering with steadfast faith". 

Release International partner Dr Berhane Asmelash said he was "deeply saddened" by Rev Araya's death.

"Rev Ghirmay served the church diligently for more than 60 years in both Eritrea and Ethiopia. His ministry extended across the Orthodox, Lutheran, and finally Full Gospel churches," he said.

Rev Araya is survived by five children and 13 grandchildren. Local sources say that one of his sons, a Lutheran minister, is currently imprisoned in a shipping container. 

It is believed that there are hundreds of other Christians in prison in Eritrea. Dr Asmelash said that many are "getting on in age and suffer from various health conditions". He is calling on the international community to act.

"All our calls to the government of Eritrea have fallen on deaf ears. So I call on the international community and fellow believers to put pressure on the government about trying to stop this barbaric act against people who have done nothing wrong," he said. 

Dr Asmelash has just published his biography, Brother, I Have Come to Arrest You, which tells the story of his own arrest and imprisonment because of his Christian faith. 

The book is endorsed by Fiona Bruce MP, vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, who said "the world should know of the suffering and bravery of thousands of Eritreans, barbarically imprisoned, tortured, and killed – simply on account of their beliefs".

"And to know that this is happening right now, in the third decade of the 21st century," she said. 

"This is not cheap grace," she added.

Release International CEO Paul Robinson said: "This is a remarkable account of the importance – and possibility – of standing strong in the faith under the most appalling of conditions, as the tragic death of Rev Ghirmay Araya serves to illustrate.

"As Fiona Bruce and Dr Berhane remind us, there is no such thing as cheap grace. And this book serves as a wake-up call to the Church in the free world, to truly value our freedom and to use it effectively for the Gospel."