Three Christians died in prison in Eritrea in 2016.


World Watch List Rank World Watch List Score
10 82/100
Leader Population
President Isaias Afewerk 5,482,000 (2,741,000 Christians)
Main Religion Government
Islam, Christianity One-party state
Source of Persecution Persecution Level
Dictatorial Paranoia, Islamic Oppression, Denominational Protectionism Very High Persecution

Others have been in prison for over 11 years in miserable conditions; some are kept in shipping containers in scorching temperatures. Christians are considered 'agents of the West' and a threat to the state. Eritrean Muslims are 'Muslim first', and leaving Islam is seen as a betrayal of their community. Many Christians would rather risk the deadly emigration routes via Sudan or Libya than stay in Eritrea.


When Senet* was arrested for refusing to put the state before her faith in Jesus, she was put in a small cell with 55 other women.

"We were so tightly crammed in that we could not sit properly, let alone lie down to sleep. We were forced to work long hours without rest. My immediate commander was especially cruel.

"But in a dream one night I saw myself fighting with and defeating a very strong man. In the dream I was surprised by my strength and wondered how I had managed to defeat him."

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 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 radical groups such as Rashaida and al-Shabaab - they have reportedly supplied al-Shabaab with weapons at times.

The strong man of persecution in Eritrea can seem impossible to defeat. And yet many faithful believers have been surprised by the strength God has given them. Senet was asked to recant her faith several times, but refused; as a result, she spent over six years in prison. But she says it was an honour to suffer for the name of Jesus: "May the Name of the Lord be glorified!"


Since the late 1990s, Open Doors has strengthened believers in Eritrea through strategic partnerships with the local church. Open Doors encourages Christians in the region through:

  • Raising awareness and prayer
  • Encouraging positive engagement on behalf of the church
  • Offering discipleship support and practical assistance to persecuted Christians.


  • Ask God to change the hearts of President Afewerki and his government and reveal Himself to them
  • For comfort and strength for imprisoned Christians, and that God will use them as witnesses to their captors
  • For protection for Christians who have fled Eritrea and are often at risk of trafficking and attack.


  • Pray for those that are suffering by reading the latest prayer requests from persecuted Christians around the world.
  • Advocate for persecuted Christians by signing the Hope for Middle East Petition.
  • Consider donating your resources to Open Doors.