ERITREA: Rev Ghirmay Araya dies in prison

Rev Ghirmay ArayaOn 16 May Release Eritrea reported the death in prison of Rev Ghirmay Araya (83), describing him as “enduring his suffering with steadfast faith”. He had been incarcerated for almost three years in a maximum-security prison in Asmara and was suffering from diabetes and other related illnesses.

Rev Ghirmay was one of the founding members of the Full Gospel Church in Eritrea, banned by the Eritrean regime in 2002. Its senior leaders have been in prison since 2004, including chair of the Full Gospel Church Rev Haile Naizge.

Rev Ghirmay’s son Samuel Ghirmay, a Lutheran minister, has been imprisoned for his faith for the last seven years. Release International reports that he is being held in a shipping container at the same prison as his father but that they had no opportunity to meet and that Rev Samuel was not even aware of his father’s death.


Rev Ghirmay and his fellow church leader Rev Samuel Okbamichael were semi-retired pastors in the Full Gospel Church when they were arrested at their homes in the middle of the night in July 2021. They were detained without charge in Wengel Mermera Central Criminal Investigation Centre, where several church leaders have been held incommunicado for almost twenty years.

Police intended to arrest another elderly Full Gospel pastor, Rev Georgio Gebreab, but they found him sick in bed at his home in Asmara and placed him under house arrest instead. Rev Georgio had been very ill for some time and had previously served five years in prison.

“I am deeply saddened”

Commenting on the death of Rev Ghirmay, Director of Release Eritrea Rev Dr Berhane Asmelash stated: “I am deeply saddened by Reverend Ghirmay’s death and am concerned for the welfare of all other prisoners who are also getting on in age and suffer from various health conditions. All our calls to the government of Eritrea have fallen on deaf ears, and so I call on the international community and fellow believers, as well as those concerned about human rights, to put pressure on the government to stop this barbaric act against people who have done nothing wrong. I take this opportunity to express my heartfelt condolences to his wife, their children, his extended family, and the church he served diligently for more than sixty years in both Eritrea and Ethiopia. His ministry extended across the Orthodox, Lutheran, and finally Full Gospel churches. He left five children and 13 grandchildren. He went to be with the Lord at the age of 83.”

In May 2002 the Eritrean government closed all churches except the Catholic, Lutheran and Orthodox denominations, and began to arrest members of banned churches – plus some Christians from permitted denominations. Since then thousands of Christians have been detained incommunicado in terrible conditions without charge, trial or sentence. Release Eritrea notes that several have died either due to torture or as a result of untreated illnesses.

It is generally estimated that around four hundred Christians are currently imprisoned for their faith in Eritrea, including over two hundred Evangelicals and at least one hundred and fifty Orthodox Christians.

Find out more about the persecution of Eritrean Christians in Church in Chains’ Eritrea Country Profile.

(Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Church in Chains, Release Eritrea, Release International)

Photo: Release Eritrea