Priests continue to be targeted and killed by Eritrean forces in the ongoing conflict in Tigray, according to a Christian organisation.
Release International is warning that hostility towards Christians in Eritrea is being exported to neighbouring Ethiopia, where Eritrean forces have joined in the fighting.
Andrew Boyd from the charity has been telling Premier about the situation:
"Release international is extremely concerned about the situation in Tigray. We know that trained troops have joined with Ethiopian troops in the conflict."
"Roughly a year ago, there were reports of a massacre that had taken place at a city called Aksum. 78 priests were among the dead according to a trusted contact of Release International, Helen Berhane, who herself has been imprisoned in Eritrea, brutally tortured, captured and is now living in Europe. She's in regular contact with the persecuted church within that region. The reports that she's been describing say that the killing of priests is continuing in the region at the hand of Eritrean troops. So it is of deep concern. It's one of those places it's very difficult to get verifiable reports from but this is what Helen Berhane has been hearing and is now reporting."
Helen Berhane says:
"Eritrean troops are killing a lot of priests and raping their wives. Some of the priests stand holding their crosses, so they cut their hands. And when the soldiers ask the priests to remove their hats, when they say no, they shoot them. Hundreds of priests are dying in this conflict at the hands of Eritrean soldiers."
The authoritarian government in Eritrea forced most churches to close in 2002 and arrested and detained many Christians indefinitely. Some, like Helen Berhane, were brutally tortured.
Helen was locked up in a shipping container in the desert along with other Christians, baking by day and freezing by night. She was beaten to try to make her renounce her faith, but she refused. She is now living in Europe and continues to campaign on behalf of persecuted Eritrean Christians.
Andrew Boyd says it is extremely disturbing:
"The scale of it is so huge. If you look at Eritrea as a whole, the United Nations says that half a million people have fled that country now - a 10th of the population have fled. They're not just Christians, of course, but where Christians have gone to Ethiopia, they've gone to refugee camps there and they've been able to hold their meetings publicly and they've been able to enjoy some freedom of worship. But unfortunately, the conflict there is now catching up with them. So some of those refugee camps have faced potential attacks and some of the Christians there have left yet again.
"These people have been displaced and displaced yet again within that country. It's for that reason, that Release International is focusing on Eritrea this year for the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, which is November the seventh. Please pray, particularly for Christians around the world who have been forced to flee for their faith. We've seen it a great deal in the Middle East, we're seeing it now in the Horn of Africa, in Eritrea and Eritrea as our particular concern this year for the International Day of Prayer on November 7th."