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World News

Eritrea military raid prayer meetings, imprison 35 Christians

by Tola Mbakwe

Thirty-five Christians have been arrested in Eritrea after participating in prayer meetings.

The mass arrests took place last week, when the army raided a prayer meeting held by 23 women in the capital Asmara. Another 12 were arrested in Assab, near the border with Djibouti.

According to persecution watchdog Release International, the Christians were taken to nearby prisons.

Andrew Boyd from the charity told Premier it's likely that neighbours head the prayer meetings going on and reported it to the military.

“What happens in Eritrea is that, because it's a single-party state, it is a very repressive government. It's often been described as being the North Korea of Africa. They hate people organizing themselves and are extremely suspicious of when people come together.

“So every citizen in Eritrea has a duty to spy on and inform on the others. So in this case, Release International thinks It's possible that neighbours may have seen women gathering to pray, or may even have overheard the sound of their singing, or they're praying and called in the military to arrest them.”

The mass arrests come after 171 Christians in Eritrea, who were arrested for their faith, have been released over the past six months.

“But this latest wave of arrests is proof there has been no change in the repressive government policy towards religious freedom,’ said Dr Berhane Asmelash, a partner of Release International, which supports persecuted Christians worldwide.

Dr Asmelash continued: ‘Unless there is a change of policy these will continue to be dangerous times for Christians in Eritrea, where many are suffering for their faith.’

Eritrea outlawed most religions in 2002, when the government banned every faith other than Orthodox, Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran and Sunni Islam.

Boyd encouraged people to pray for Christians in Eritrea as they try their best to practice their faith.

“Pray that they'll be faithful in the witness and that they'll be wise in the way they choose to worship,” he said.

“Every time Christians are persecuted the Church grows, but we have to do so with wisdom. And it's possible in this case, and we're speculating here, that they may have been seen gathering or overheard singing. So it's not about living in fear, but it is about living in wisdom, and continuing to stand strong in the faith. So let's stand with them. As we enjoy the freedom that we have this Easter to worship, let’s recognize that they need our prayers and support.”.

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