-On March 16, 21 Christians were arrested in Eritrea’s capital city of Asmara.
-We have also learned that in the southeastern city of Assab, eight believers (seven women and one man) were arrested on March 16 for unknown reasons.
-Two days later on March 18, there are reports of seven more believers arrested in the same area. So far, we don’t have details on charges or where both groups were taken or are being held.
Known as the “North Korea of Africa,” Eritrea is infamous for its intricate and inhumane prison system, often putting prisoners in shipping containers, creating insurmountable conditions and leaving them in isolation. Prisons are part of an underground tunnel system that often prevents families from reaching and even contacting their loved ones. Conditions have even worsened due to the pandemic.
Human Rights Watch reports that “COVID-19 restrictions denied many detainees vital food parcels and sanitary products their families would have provided.” For months, Eritrea’s government reportedly has ignored calls by international rights organizations to release prisoners who were unlawfully detained.
In 2018, Pastor Ogbamichael Teklheimanot shared his story with Open Doors, giving us a window into the conditions Christians are often subjected to in Eritrean prisons. Imprisoned for 11 years, he told about the horrifying living conditions and torture he endured in Eritrea’s Mitire Camp, known as a military concentration camp. In the two years since his release, and with the COVID-19 pandemic, conditions have worsened for our imprisoned brothers and sisters in Eritrea.
Because he refused to renounce his faith in Christ, Pastor Ogbamichael was subjected to particular abuses reserved for outlawed religious groups. His life is an example of the deep and continual persecution that Christians in Eritrea, especially those who lead the church, face every day. You can read his story below:
Finally free after 11 years in Eritrean prison
In October 2007, Pastor Ogbamichael Teklheimanot took a phone call from one of his church members who was fleeing the country. The pastor had no idea it would be his last day as a free man for the next 11 years.
Unbeknownst to him, Eritrean security forces were monitoring this church member. The phone call led to his arrest and imprisonment, though no charges were ever brought against Ogbamichael who served as the senior pastor of Kale Hiwot, or “Word of Life” church in the country’s capital city of Asmara.