ERITREA: 1,700 Christians now in prison

The number of Eritrean Christians confirmed to be jailed for their religious beliefs has shot up to a total of over 1,700, including 175 women. A number of them are being held in metal containers similar to the one pictured left.

This figure includes a significant number who are not imprisoned for their faith but for evading compulsory military training. It is known that most of these prisoners have already served more than two years of military service and should therefore be exempt from further military training.

At least 26 full-time Protestant pastors and Orthodox clergy are in jail, their personal bank accounts frozen by government order. As a result, one source said, “Their family members are suffering to a great degree.”

According to the latest statistics, 561 Christians are jailed at Wi’a, 333 at Mai Serwa, 238 at Gelalo, 175 at Adi-Abyto, 100 at the Massawa police station, 95 at Track C Military Camp, 72 in Asmara police stations, 69 at Sawa, 46 at Assab, 35 in the Mendefera police station, 27 in the Keren police station and 27 in Asmara’s Wongel Mermera investigation centre.

“Many believe that the number could be far more,” one source said.

Pastor Kidane Gebremeskel was sentenced to three years imprisonment by a military tribunal in late September. Two other pastors were sentenced along with him. The three men had been transferred this summer from Wongel Mermera to Sembel Prison, located on the outskirts of Asmara. Under prison rules, the sentenced prisoners are allowed visitors only once a month, for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile Pastor Oqbamichel Haimonot , who suffered a nervous breakdown in prison, was released on bail in late October. He is forbidden to attend any Christian meetings. Friends say that his health has improved since his release. (Compass)