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Christians suffer in Africa’s so-called “North Korea” prisons

Eritrea is often referred to as the "North-Korea of Africa", due to its intense totalitarian government, that is openly hostile towards Christians.

Out of the 3.7 million people in Eritrea, 1.7 million are Christian, which makes up around half of the population. The country, led by President Isais Afwerki and his party People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, only recognises three heavily monitored Christian denominations: Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Lutheran. Any other religious groups, such as Evangelicals or Pentecostals, are facing persistent risk. Speaking one’s mind about persecution or government interference in church matters carries the threat of severe punishment. Affiliates of some house churches have been imprisoned for more than ten years, enduring shocking conditions, including solitary confinement in tiny cells. Women often are exposed to gender-based violence, including rape and sexual aggression.

According to International Christian Concern, there are an estimated 500 Christian prisoners of faith kept among inhumane conditions, who have not been officially charged or trialled.  The organisation delivers emergency food supplies and audio bibles to persecuted Christians, despite the dangers they are exposed to. The Africa Regional Director of International Christian Concern states: “The world needs to wake up to the atrocities taking place in Eritrea today. Not only are Christians imprisoned, tortured, and killed, but the everyday person lives under the oppression of an authoritative regime, dictated by Isaias Afwerki, a ruthless leader with a totalitarian agenda.”

One pastor, despite facing continuing torture and separation from other prisoners, had the courage to secretly baptize 50 inmates by collecting shower and toilet water in a barrel. “It’s very tough, especially for Christians” he said. “Even though they are preventing us from seeing other prisoners, so many people, even fighters and the prisoners, are receiving Jesus Christ as their personal saviour.”

According to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: “Inmates are subjected to total darkness, which increases their suffering. A torture chamber made of concrete is reportedly located at the back of the containers. One detainee… was interrogated and tortured four nights per week for two months.”

A few prisoners who had been held in the notorious Mai Serwa, an institution in Eritrea’s capital, Asmara, have reported being confined in shipping containers; each holding 8-22 detainees. These containers don’t have proper ventilation and are extremely dangerous due to the acute weather changes of the desert.


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