Eritrea: One giant prison.
Thousands of political prisoners are detained in jails and underground cells; there is no independent civil society; all independent media outlets have been shut down; the head of the Eritrean Orthodox Church is in incommunicado detention; and evangelical Christians are rounded up and tortured on a regular basis. Eritreans flee the country by the thousands despite ‘shoot-to-kill’ orders for anyone caught crossing the border.
Not a single Christian prisoner has ever been charged with a crime or tried, had access to a lawyer or been brought before a judge or a judicial officer to assess the legality, necessity or the duration of his or her detention.
In the vast majority of cases, the prisoners’ families are not informed of their whereabouts. Torture is widespread, brutal and designed to force prisoners to recant their faith.
Release has received credible reports of deaths in detention as a result of torture, appalling conditions or suicide. These include accounts of prisoners dying of treatable diseases such as malaria and illnesses caused by excessive heat.
One former detainee describing his experience said, ‘We couldn’t lie down [in the underground cell]. It’s best to be standing because if you lie down, your skin remains stuck to the floor. The floor is terribly hot.’
Another prisoner speaking about the horror of imprisonment in Eritrea said, ‘The room was about two and a half metres by three metres and we were 33 people. It was very, very hot. The door was closed, the ceiling was low, about two metres. The temperature was about 50 degrees. A boy, about 17 years old, was about to die. We were not permitted to speak, but we banged the door. They [the guards] told us they would kill all of us if we did not stop shouting. We couldn’t do anything to help him.’
In 2002 the Government of Eritrea closed down all unregistered evangelical and Pentecostal churches, beginning a systematic campaign of persecution that has resulted in thousands of Christians being detained and imprisoned in appalling conditions during the past 15 years, which is why we are asking you to pray.
Our partner in Eritrea has identified 173 Eritrean prisoners of faith by name, many of whom have been jailed for more than 12 years.
That’s 173 prisoners without visitation rights, without any real hope of being released, having never been charged or been granted a trial.
One hundred and seventy three names of men, women and even children. There are other prisoners whose names we don’t know.
Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, who helped to inspire the founding of Release in 1968, spent a total of 14 years in prison because of his faith. He wrote: ‘Whoever wishes to meet Jesus must first meet him in places where brothers and sisters of Jesus are hungry, thirsty, naked, unwanted, sick or in prison. Whoever keeps himself distant from these places remains distant from Jesus.’
Hebrews 13:3 urges us to: ‘Remember those in prison as if you were together with them’.
Now is the time to do just that for our suffering brothers and sisters in Eritrea.
Use the daily prayers listed to help you. We will be posting a total of 173 prayers over the next few months.