Pastor Oqbamichel Haiminot was Senior Pastor of the Kale Hiwot (“Word of Life”) Church.
In 2003, he became the first senior Eritrean church leader to be imprisoned for his Christian activities, spending a few weeks in prison.
Pastor Oqba as he is affectionately known, was raised in an Sudan Interior Mission [SIM] mission’s orphanage in Dekemhare, a town some 40 kilometres south east of the capital Asmara. He studied and worked hard to become a teacher and then manager of the orphanage before taking on the role of pastor of the church in Dekemhare.
Pastor Oqbamichel was known to be a very passionate preacher, very caring pastor and extremely hard working church leader. He then moved to Asmara to take up responsibility as leader of the Kale Hiwot denomination.
Churches such as Kale Hiwot have been illegal since a crackdown in May 2002, when the government banned all religious groups except the Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches and Sunni Islam.
He was arrested again for participating in a wedding ceremony in Barentu, western Eritrea, on 9 January 2005, along with 66 other evangelical men, women and children, including the bride and groom.
Relatives were informed that the group had been taken to Sawa military training centre for ‘military punishment’. Most of those arrested were released during the following months, once their families agreed to pay bail bonds, but the pastor and five others were kept in detention at Sawa, where security forces attempted to force him to sign papers recanting his faith. When he refused, he was put in solitary confinement and subjected to extremely harsh physical and emotional abuse, including being forced to carry rocks up a mountain.
Four months in, Pastor Oqbamichel suffered a mental breakdown.
He was later released but was re-arrested in Asmara on 1 October 2007 after church member, Mussie Ezaz, who was on the run from, and being monitored by, the security forces, called his phone.
Pastor Oqbamichel was taken to, and imprisoned in 5th police station. He is still there.
He is married, with three children.