On Saturday 20 January, a group of family and friends gathered together in Gejeret, a suburb on the south side of Eritrea’s capital Asmara, to celebrate the first birthday of a child from an evangelical Christian family.
Open Doors and BBC Tigrinya reported that the gathering was raided by police officers who targeted evangelical Christians attending the celebrations. The police ordered non-evangelicals to disperse and go to their homes but took the adult male evangelicals into custody and brought them to the Sixth Police Station about three kilometres away.
Meanwhile, the female evangelicals (many of them mothers) were told to appear at the Sixth Police Station on Monday 22 January, when they were taken into custody. Some children who accompanied their mothers were also detained.
Police raids on Christian family celebrations are not unknown – on previous occasions there have been raids on weddings and also on informal gatherings.
In September 2023 Dr Berhane Asmelash (Director of Church in Chains partner Release Eritrea) told delegates at Church in Chains’ annual conference at Trinity Church in Dublin’s city centre that Christians in Eritrea continue to meet together to pray and worship despite the ever-present threat of arrest.
He said that there are more Christians in Eritrea now than ever in the thirty-year history of the country, explaining: “Twenty years ago, the number of evangelicals was very small but now it has multiplied several times because the Gospel can never be in chains. It is like a bush fire… it is the work of the Holy Spirit… it is not the work of human beings. Christians cannot stop worshipping because their heart will not allow them to stop. They meet for Bible study and prayer despite the risk of arrest because they are in love with their Lord.”
In May 2002, the Eritrean government banned all religious groups except the Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches and Sunni Islam. The number of Christians currently imprisoned for their faith in Eritrea is estimated to be around three hundred. All are being held indefinitely without charge, trial or sentence. Typically, some are released after a few weeks or months, often without explanation, but some senior church leaders have been imprisoned for almost twenty years.
(Open Doors, BBC Tigrinya)
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