A family celebration that should have been full with joy turned to anguish in Eritrea last weekend, when police raided a baby's first birthday party, and arrested 30 Christian adults along with an unknown number of children.
According to a source reporting to Open Doors, the incident happened in the country’s capital, Asmara, on 20 January. Christians were taken to a nearby police station, while "unbelievers were sent home".
The charity, which works to protect freedom of religion and belief around the world, says the group had gathered to celebrate the birthday of a Christian family's firstborn child.
Eritrea, which borders Ethiopia, in north east of Africa, is fourth on the list of most dangerous countries to be a Christian, according to Open Doors' World Watch List 2024.
Only three Christian denominations are allowed by the Eritrean government – Orthodox, Lutheran and Catholic – and all are subject to heavy monitoring. Those who try to meet outside these recognised groups - such as Pentecostal or evangelical churches - risk raids, fines or long-term imprisonment under notoriously poor conditions.
The charity says Eritrea is known as the ‘North Korea of Africa’ because of its intense authoritarian rule. Despite this, almost half the population, 1.7 million of the 3.7 million people in Eritrea, are Christian.
Church leaders often targeted in particular, during the raids to round out 'unsanctioned believers'. Those seized can be detained indefinitely. Current estimates suggest around 1,000 Eritrean Christians remain imprisoned without charge, while members of some house churches have been in prison for more than ten years.
Open Doors says last weekend's arrests are a stark reminder of the day-to-day reality many Christians there face.