Grim 20-year imprisonment milestone for Eritrean pastors as another Christian leader dies in prison

31 May 2024

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Please intercede for pastors and other Christians imprisoned for their faith in Eritrea, especially as a grim milestone has been reached in the case of three pastors.

It is now 20 years since the Eritrean government arrested Pastors Haile Nayzgi and Dr Kiflu Gebremeskel on 23 May 2004. They have been imprisoned without trial ever since.

A third Christian leader, Pastor Meron Gebreselasie, was arrested a month later.

Pastor Haile Nayzgi is one of three Eritrean Christian leaders who have been held in jail for 20 years [Image credit:X]

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has urged the United States government to press for the immediate release of the men.

USCIRF Commissioner Frank Wolf described it as “unconscionable” that the three pastors “remain imprisoned under horrible conditions”.  They are held at the Wengel Mermera Central Criminal Investigation Centre, a maximum-security facility in the Eritrean capital Asmara.

In its most recent annual report, USCIRF reported that in 2023 at least 500 Christians in Eritrea faced “extremely long prison sentences and harsh prison conditions”.

Meanwhile, another Eritrean pastor, Ghirmay Araya, has died after being imprisoned for almost three years in the same maximum-security prison.

Ghirmay Araya and another pastor, Samuel Okbamichael, were arrested from their homes on the same night in July 2021. Both pastors were in their mid-70s at the time of their arrests.

Eritrea’s authoritarian Marxist government exerts tight control of the population, which is roughly half Christian and half Muslim. It legally permits only three Christian denominations – Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Lutheran – as well as Sunni Islam. Even the legally permitted denominations may be intimidated and harassed, and 2023 saw an increase in pressure on them.

Christians from prohibited denominations are particularly targeted, subjected to arbitrary arrest and lengthy terms of imprisonment often without charge or trial.

Pray that the authorities in Eritrea will come under Divine conviction and release Pastors Haile Nayzgi, Dr Kiflu Gebremeskel and Meron Gebreselasie after their long ordeal. Ask that other Christians imprisoned in Eritrea will also be set free. Pray that Ghirmay Araya’s family will be comforted in the knowledge that he is now at home in perfect peace with his Lord.

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