World Watch List Rank: 6
Leader: President Isaias Afewerki
Population: 5.4 million (2.5 million Christians)
Main religion: Islam/Christianity
Government: One-party state
Source of persecution: Dictatorial paranoia/Islamic extremism
"Lord, we pray for unity in the church - that traditional denominations will recognise Christians from all backgrounds. We pray for strength and comfort for those who are imprisoned and for protection for Christians, particularly those who attempt to escape Eritrea who often end up in the hands of traffickers."
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To find out how you can get involved in speaking up for persecuted Christians in Eritrea, check out the Open Doors websiteVisit the website
The government enlists community members to spy on Christians. Although members of the Eritrean Coptic Church enjoy relative freedom, other denominations are seen as ‘agents of the West’. The West was blamed for unrest in the nation after a failed coup in 2013, and this resulted in more intensive persecution of Christians.
A growing source of persecution in Eritrea is Islamic extremism. Although the government’s tough stance on religion can affect Muslims as well as Christians, radical Muslims appear to be gaining support and the government has sympathy for extremist groups such as Rashaida and al-Shabaab - they have reportedly supplied al-Shabaab with weapons at times.
The so-called ‘People’s Front for Democracy and Justice’ exerts absolute control over its citizens, including their religious life. All religious groups must be registered. Christians are considered a threat to the state; their houses have been attacked, and they have been tortured, beaten and imprisoned in horrific conditions. Some are detained in metal shipping containers in scorching temperatures.
The plight of Eritreans has entered mainstream news, partly due to a growing awareness of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean and partly due to a new UN report on Eritrea being presented to the United Nations Council on 23 June. In the same way that last year the UN reported on North Korea, this year a UN Human Rights Report has turned the spotlight on human rights abuses in Eritrea, claiming that the Eritrean authorities may have committed crimes against humanity.
For church leaders in Eritrea, one sign of God’s faithfulness at work is the fact that Christians exit prisons after years of incarceration under very harsh circumstances with their faith intact.
“Recently the church saw the release of 11 long-time prisoners. Two of these prisoners had spent nine years imprisoned in Barentu. We also heard of Christians, including women, who have made it out of Mitire alive after three years, five years and nine years respectively. All of them say the Lord has kept them despite their difficult circumstances.”
These church leaders told Open Doors that they are very thankful for the prayer and support from their brothers and sisters around the world. “We thank God that we are not alone. God gave us many wonderful people like you who truly keep us in your hearts and share our burden.”
For more information, please go to the Open Doors website