Eritrean authorities have arrested 103 young Christians, some from Eritrea Institute of Technology at Mai-Nefhi (pictured), who gathered to sing together and record worship music to release on YouTube.
UPDATE (14 SEPTEMBER 2023): About 50 of the group were released from prison in early September.
The young Christians are said to have been taken to the notorious Mai Serwa prison, where over the years thousands of Eritreans from churches banned by the government in 2002 have been held, often in shipping containers.
The group had enthusiastically gathered at a location in Asmara and were singing and recording their songs of praise and worship when they were detained, as their gathering and their churches are considered illegal in the country. It is feared that authorities might use this as an opportunity to prohibit them from returning to their studies and instead send them for military service.
Dr Berhane Asmelash, director of Church in Chains partner organisation Release Eritrea, said, “I received the news with sadness at a time when we are struggling to get to grips with the Eritrean Christian refugees in crisis in Sudan and Ethiopia. I call on all Eritreans and friends of Eritreans to condemn this action and call for the immediate release of these young people who were simply doing what every young person does, play their music and record it for social media. In Eritrea this has now become a crime that could result in people being detained for decades”.
These arrests brings the total number of Christian prisoners detained for their faith to about five hundred, with several pastors having been detained since 2004.
In May 2002 Eritrea banned all faith groups not belonging to the recognised four groups – Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran Evangelical and Islam. Since then, thousands of believers from the banned groups have been imprisoned and some have died in custody. None of those imprisoned has been charged or accorded due legal process, instead many are tortured and asked to recant their faith or pledge not to partake in any activities related to their faith, including officiating at or attending weddings or funerals.