In its latest crackdown on Christians, Eritrean authorities this month arrested 103 young Christians who had gathered together at a location in the capital city of Asmara to record praise and worship videos to upload on social media. According to Voice of the Martyrs Korea, the arrests bring to more than 500 the number of Christians being held in the small northeast African country that persecution watchdogs call “the North Korea of Africa”.
Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley says the ministry has received word that the Christians are being held at the country’s notorious Mai Serwa prison, which has been cited by the United Nations and multiple human rights groups for abuse of prisoners including torture, the withholding of medical treatment as a form of punishment, and detainment of prisoners for years without formal charge or trial.
Representative Foley says that Voice of the Martyrs Korea partners with its sister mission, UK’s Release International, to support families of Christian prisoners in Eritrea. Dr. Berhane Asmelash of Release International, who previously visited Korea at the invitation of Voice of the Martyrs Korea to report on the situation of Christians in Eritrea, said that the young Christians may face extended prison sentences.
“I call on all Eritreans and friends of Eritreans to condemn this action and call for the immediate release of these young people who were simply doing what every young person does: play their music and record it for social media,” said Dr. Berhane in comments provided by Voice of the Martyrs Korea. “In Eritrea this has now become a crime that could result in people being detained for decades.”
According to Representative Foley, Christians in Eritrea have suffered “longer and deeper” than most Christians around the world today.
“Since May 2002, Eritrea has been one of the fiercest persecutors of Christians worldwide,” says Representative Foley. “It is often called the ‘North Korea of Africa’ because its president is known to have a fondness for the North Korean model of leader-worship and desires to implement it in his own country.”
Representative Foley says that despite the decades of persecution, even young Eritrean Christians continue to be joyful and bold in their witness. “The New Testament reminds us that Christians, not the kingdoms of this world, are on the advance. The kingdoms of this world are actually in retreat, even when they look like they are on the attack,” she says. “These 103 young believers gathered to record praise and worship videos, even being willing to expose their identities on social media. It shows that they are not afraid, not in hiding, and not waiting until there is a regime change. They are not ashamed of the gospel, so as the writer of Hebrews says, ‘God will not be ashamed to be called their God’.”
(From file) Eritrean Christians singing at a training event conducted by Voice of the Martyrs.
According to Representative Foley, only four religions are legal in Eritrea, and all four are strongly monitored and restricted. Among Protestantism, only Lutheran churches are permitted. Many of Eritrea’s non-Lutheran pastors have been imprisoned and tortured for more than ten years. In Eritrea, prisons are located in the hot desert and prisoners are kept in metal shipping containers. Due to the strong persecution against Christians, some flee the country and are living in refugee camps in Ethiopia.
Representative Foley adds, “We have had the privilege of providing persecution training annually to Eritrean believers for many years. Their singing is heavenly, usually without instruments and always from memory. Their memorization of scriptures is amazing. And they simply love to be together, worshiping, praying, learning, and exhorting one another to be faithful witnesses. Since 2002 they have been willing to bear whatever suffering the Eritrean government lays on them because they consider it such a precious privilege to gather as the body of Christ.”
(From file) Dr. Berhane Asmelash, Eritrean partner of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, is prayed over by Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s Dr. Hyun Sook Foley and several North Korean students during a trip to Korea to update Christians on the persecution of believers in Eritrea.
Representative Foley says she is praying that the recent arrest of these 103 young Christians will remind Christians around the world to renew their urgent prayers on behalf of all of Eritrea’s imprisoned Christians. “All Christians around the world should add to our prayer list our Eritrean brothers and sisters in prison—both these newest prisoners and also those who have been imprisoned in metal shipping containers for decades—simply because they fear God, not man.”
Voice of the Martyrs Korea administers a fund to provide ongoing support to families of Eritrea’s Christian martyrs and prisoners of faith, in partnership with Release International. Churches and individuals interested in making a monthly donation or one-time gift to VOMK’s Eritrea Fund can do so at www.vomkorea.com/en/donation or via electronic transfer to:
Please include the phrase “Eritrea” on the transfer.