Eritrea (MNN) ― Eritrea's crackdown on Christians has claimed two more lives.
The country (ranked 12th on the Open Doors World Watch List) is known for its brutal hostility and indifference toward believers they arrest. Ministry partners of Open Doors have sent reports indicating the conditions detainees endure are inhumane, i.e.- gross neglect in shipping containers in the dessert and military detention camps, as well as torture.
Open Doors USA CEO Carl Moeller says, "Two young women, 23 and 27 -- Hiwet Tesfu and Zemame Mehari -- were reported to have died in one of these military camps." They had been in the ALLA military camp for two years and three months.
Their plight was largely ignored on the international stage, as similar cases have been. "Both of these women had apparently been in ill health," says Moeller. "They were repeatedly tortured. They had been repeatedly denied medical treatment." They were buried at the military camp.
The women were arrested in April 2009 for attending a prayer meeting in Dekemhare, 15 kilometers from ALLA Military Camp southeast of Asmara. Both Open Doors and Compass Direct News reports show that at the time of their arrest, prayer and similar Christian meetings were being arranged by groups of young believers in the military service.
However, the government maintains that it has no religious prisoners in custody. Moeller dismisses that claim as semantics. "They don't recognize these evangelical or Pentecostal sects as ‘religious' institutions or organizations; therefore, when they arrest them, it's for holding illegal activities or illegal meetings. So, when they're held, they're not holding ‘religious' prisoners: they're holding ‘social' and ‘political' prisoners."
Since 2002, the government has cracked down on all but the traditional Orthodox, Catholic, or Lutheran churches and certain branches of Islam.
Tesfu and Mehari are the 17th and 18th Christians known to have died while serving time for their faith in one of Eritrea's harsh detention centres. They are the fourth and fifth Christian deaths confirmed in the ALLA Military Camp.
There are reports of thousands of believers in similar conditions, and very few, if any, have actually been charged since their arrest. Given the government reaction to Christians, it might seem logical that this treatment produces a "chilling effect" for Gospel workers. Yet, the opposite seems to be true, says Moeller. "When they see Christians willing to go to prison, willing to die, willing to be tortured for this religion, it creates an undeniable thirst for understanding what that faith is about."
The great paradox, Moeller notes, is that "it is sometimes exactly those places where the situation is the most desperate that we see the growth of the church most dramatically. I believe it's because that in the midst of the crucible of persecution, Christians are continuing to stand up."
Please continue to pray for Christians all over Eritrea who are suffering dearly for their Christian beliefs. Pray for godly wisdom, perseverance, and God's protection in their lives. Pray that Christians across the world would open up their hearts for these persecuted believers, continuing to pray and advocate earnestly for them.