A further 141 Christians have been rounded up in Eritrea… Their crime? Gathering to meet in private ahead of Independence Day. There is tight security on the streets ahead of May 24, when Eritrea celebrates independence from Ethiopia. Secret police are clamping down to prevent any sign of protests – even Christian worship.
Eritrea has been branded ‘the North Korea of Africa’. Tens of thousands have risked death from drowning to escape to Italy. Others have fled to Sudan or Ethiopia. One in 12 has fled the country. And many of those are Christians.
Eritrea has jailed hundreds of Christians indefinitely simply because of their faith. Many are now living in makeshift refugee camps in neighbouring Ethiopia.
Release International, which supports persecuted Christians, has been to one of the camps to hear their stories. This radio report, which lasts 6 minutes 39 seconds, is by Andrew Boyd…
Transcript of report:
Narr: Hands are raised, eyes are closed and the sound of Christian worship fills the air – a sound forbidden in their homeland. Dawit was jailed and tortured in Eritrea – simply for being a Christian. He says that is why he was forced to leave…
Dawit: My name is Dawit. I am a Christian from Eritrea. But now I am living in this refugee camp in Ethiopia. Eritrea is under a dictatorship. There is no law and no justice. When I was living in Eritrea I was arrested because of my Christian faith. That’s why I left.
In Eritrea almost every Christian faces imprisonment. That’s why I was in prison, first for one month, then I was sent to a labour camp, where I had to work without payment. I was also detained for two weeks, when I was tortured.
Each night I had to sleep on the floor with my arms and feet tied together tightly, they called it the Number 8.
Narr: Dawit demonstrates the Number 8. His legs were doubled up behind his back and lashed to his wrists. Imagine trying to sleep like that…
Dawit: Because of that I still have back pain.
Narr: Sometimes prisoners are tied up and hanged from trees. One form of hanging is known as the Jesus Christ, because it looks like a crucifix, says Dr Berhane Asmelash, himself a former prisoner and victim of torture.
Berhane Asmelash: Eritrea is like a giant prison. The country is filled with jails, concentration camps and prisons. And it is like North Korea, but in Africa.
Berhane Asmelash: The government has been persecuting Christians… Christians have been arrested for their faith and all evangelical and independent churches have been closed. And the people have been tortured for their faith.
Narr: Many Christians have fled over the border into northern Ethiopia. In these government-run refugee camps, thousands make their homes under canvas and corrugated tin, sitting patiently on dirt floors, hoping for asylum in other countries.
Narr: Here at least, refugees like Elsa can sing, even though she can still hear her sister’s screams as the prison guards beat her to death:
Elsa: We were kept in underground cells. Sometimes the guards put us both in a metal shipping container to torture us. This became so hot during the day and then in the night it became freezing cold. We didn’t get much to eat and there was no medical treatment. The guards offered to let us go, but only if we renounced our faith in Jesus. We said no.
One evening we were taken into the bush, and I knew we were going to be beaten. They were going to inflict as much pain on us as they could. The guards took it in terms to beat us. I will never forget hearing the screams of my sister. I never saw her again.
Singing, worship, voices
Temesgen: The greatest thing now is that we can express our faith openly.
Narr: This is Temesgen, who, with some help, has set up a small photography studio in the refugee camp.
Temesgen: This shop has really helped us to support the family. We can live a normal life, providing for ourselves. I work as a photographer, take still pictures, edit them and send them a local town to be printed.
This refugee camp may seem like a wilderness but we feel God’s presence and we are together. But we know that life here is only temporary.
Amleset: I want to go back home to live with my family.
Narr: Temesgen’s wife Amleset.
Amleset: It was not my choice to leave Eritrea. We were forced to leave. Life here is tough, especially in looking after my daughter. We want a safe place for her. So we want to find a home in another country.
Narr: Wherever that home may be, it can never again be Eritrea. Not while the imprisonment and the torture continue. Berhane Asmelash:
Berhane Asmelash: Most of them have been in prison for over ten years and they are suffering for lack of food and also proper hygiene and proper medical care and even some of them have lost their lives.
Narr: What can we do? Organisations like Release help support these refugees, setting them up with small businesses, giving them a fresh start. But we can also pray. And this is what Deborah, an Eritrean refugee would like us to pray:
Deborah: Please pray for protection for us as we share our faith under enormous pressure. Pray for wisdom and for the Holy Spirit to lead us. Pray for Christian prisoners that God would strengthen their faith while in jail.
Pray too for good health in spite of the terrible conditions and that they would be released soon. Pray for the church here to be strong in faith, not to be in fear but to keep on declaring the kingdom of God and sharing the gospel with others. Pray for justice to come to Eritrea.
Singing to end.