ERITREA

Africa’s most repressive state views Christians as agents of the West, and arrests, harasses and kills them with impunity.

Eritrea

World Watch List Rank World Watch List Score
6 86/100
Leader Population
President Isaias Afewerki 5.5 million | 2.5 million Christians
Main Religion Government
Islam, Christianity One Party State
WWL Rank in 2017 Persecution Level
10 Extreme Persecution

Since 1993 the country’s regime under the leadership of President Afewerki has become synonymous with absolute authoritarianism and is doing everything to maintain its power. It has arrested, harassed and killed Christians because they are considered to be agents of the West and hence a threat to the state and the government. Secondly, approximately half of the Eritrean population is Muslim. Since Muslims mostly reside in the lowlands along the Red Sea Coast and the border with Sudan, Eritrean Muslims are showing a tendency towards radicalism partly due to the increase in Islamic militancy in the region. This means that Christians living in those areas are particularly vulnerable, especially converts from Islam. Eritrean Muslims are “Muslims first” and “Eritrean second”. Conversion to Christianity is seen as a betrayal of community, family and Islamic faith. Thirdly, the Eritrean Orthodox Church (EOC) has a long historical presence in the country and sometimes puts pressure on Christians with a different background

PERSECUTION 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!"

HOW WE HELP

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.

PRAYER POINTS FOR ERITREA

  • For Christians incarcerated in horrific conditions, that God’s gracious strength will enable them to reflect Jesus to their captors
  • For a change of heart for the president – that he may find true life in Christ
  • That those who’ve fled Eritrea due to persecution or war will receive comfort and support.

 

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