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More Christian prisoners released – but still no sign of religious freedom.

A further 36 Christian prisoners have been released in Eritrea. Twenty-two are women who were rounded up by the Eritrean authorities at a prayer meeting in March in the capital Asmara. One male prisoner from this group is still being detained.

The second group to be released is 14 Christian men who were arrested four years ago and held in Dahlak Island Prison on the Red Sea.

Twelve other Christians who were seized recently in Assab for attending a prayer meeting are still behind bars.

Change of heart?

Release International’s partner says it is unusual for Christians who have been detained to be released as quickly as this. But it does not necessarily represent a change of heart on the part of the Eritrean government.

Eritrean troops are engaged in a war in neighbouring Ethiopia. Eritrea has been called in by its neighbour to help fight Tigrinya rebels. It’s thought possible that Eritrea may be releasing prisoners in order to conscript them for the army.

Eritrea closed most of its churches in 2002 when the government banned every faith other than the Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran denominations and Sunni Islam. Since then, it has been arresting Christians and detaining them indefinitely without charge.

129 still jailed

However, in the past six months 171 Christians arrested for their faith have been set free. These latest releases now leave an estimated 129 Christian prisoners in state jails in Eritrea.

Many army conscripts have also been locked up for practising their faith. That number could be as high as 150, believes our partner.

Release International has been pressing Eritrea to release all its prisoners of faith and grant full religious freedom for all its citizens.

Our partners Voice of the Martyrs Canada have been following the story. Shortly before news broke of the latest prisoner releases, Greg Musselman interviewed Release’s Andrew Boyd on the situation in Eritrea.