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Sadly, even once they are freed a new
set of challenges arises, including
trying to find accommodation, because
landlords will not rent to anyone who
has been in jail.
Most would go to live with their
extended families but former prisoners,
especially women, are often abandoned
by those closest to them. Previously
their families wanted them to study,
marry and have children but after 14-
15 years in prison they could be aged
in their early 40s and seen as unable to
contribute. Their only option may be
to stay with friends, having to move on
every few days to avoid questions from
suspicious landlords.
Release Eritrea helps pay for
accommodation and healthcare;
prisoners can leave detention with
serious medical issues. One woman
who was released weighed only 34kg,
while another, a Christian singer who
was denied release in order to have
treatment for cancer, was set free only
when the authorities were certain he
would die.
As well as supporting hundreds
of former prisoners, the ministry
has helped about 2,000 Christians
displaced by the Tigray conflict who
need food, housing and healthcare.
It also assists Christians who have
escaped the country to retrain in their
new homeland. ‘In the past three years
we have trained 815 people to start
their own businesses, for example, in
cooking, tailoring or photography,’ said
Dr Asmelash.
they’ve broken them – then they release
Which is the main reason why some
are still detained even after many
years. They remain strong in their
faith. If they are well-educated then the
authorities fear how they can influence
others when they get out.
‘The Government is anti-education so
anyone with a degree is a potential
target. All of those in government have
only elementary school education.’
For prisoners who are released
because they have suffered
breakdowns life outside can be equally
difficult. ‘In prison they were active but
when released they become paranoid.
A lot of the pastors won’t leave their
homes, especially if they signed a
document renouncing their faith. They
are ashamed and don’t want to see
other Christians. They regret it but
there is no one to
comfort them.’
Dr Asmelash said: ‘We offered one
pastor I met, who had been in prison
16 years, help to start a new life but his
brain had frozen. He comes to church,
listens but doesn’t talk to anyone.
‘What we have learned from former
prisoners is that fellowship is vital.
They form a community in prison,
pledging to one another not to
compromise or renounce their faith,
being prepared to die for it.
They understand what it means to
be “crucified with Christ”, so they are
strong whether in prison or outside.
If you can stay with your group, then
you can survive in prison.’
Prisoners are not allowed to read,
even the official government
newspaper, because the authorities
want their brains to remain inactive.
‘They want them to forget even the
alphabet so no reading material,
including Bibles, is allowed,’ said Dr
Asmelash. On top of that the food is
mostly inedible so prisoners frequently
lose weight and become unwell.
On top of these inhumane practices,
visits from family are forbidden so it
can be many years before they see
each other again.
A story of redemption
‘ My name is ‘Mebrhit’* and I accepted
Jesus as my Saviour in 2001, but due to
persecution from my family my sister
and I stopped attending any Christian
gathering. However, in August 2003 I
rededicated my life to Christ, and then,
while waiting for admission to nursing
school in 2008, I was arrested at a
Bible study group. Initially I was taken
to the police station and after one
week transferred to Adi Abeyto prison
in Asmara, the capital. The next day,
because we refused to renounce our
faith, I and other girls were transferred
to another, notorious prison, where
I joined Twen (see
January’s Voice
magazine for Twen’s
story) and other
There I could not
tolerate the hardship.
Once I was taken to
be beaten but was spared when I
passed out.
Then we were transferred to Me’etr
prison in northern Eritrea where I
continued to suffer from negative
thoughts and sleeplessness. I was not
eating and lost weight. Nevertheless, I
was getting good care from Twen and
the others who were feeding me and
praying for me.
However, after five years I began to
question why I was still there and
signed in order to get released.
After I went home my depression
continued for more than a year but
during all these times Christians were
praying for me, and Twen even had
someone on the outside come to visit
me and invite me to a home worship
group. There I started to pray and
ask for forgiveness and while praying
a song came into my heart and I
started to sing it. For the first time
the heaviness lifted and I experienced
God’s love once again.
I currently minister to refugees outside
Eritrea. I am involved in street ministry
and have seen many girls come to
know the Lord. I preach and teach
and care pastorally for those who are
struggling in life.
Although painful my faith journey has
helped me to understand those who
struggle in life. I am grateful for the
Lord has given me precious sisters and
brothers who tirelessly prayed and
cared for me.’
of Persecuted Christians
JAN-MAR 2023
News, stories and prayer requests
from persecuted Christians around the world
 To stay strong physically,
emotionally and spiritually. Some
prisoners are now in their 70s
 Pray that they will have other
believers around them for mutual
support and encouragement
 Ask God to restore to Himself all
those who have succumbed to
renouncing their faith, so that
they can know His acceptance
and feel strong enough to rejoin
their communities *Name changed to protect identity
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