Eritrea Frees Evangelical Prisoners Due to COVID-19

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Dozens of persecuted believers released on bail. But hundreds reportedly remain imprisoned in the “North Korea of Africa.”

The Eritrean government has released on bail more than 20 prisoners detained for years because of their faith, the BBC reports.

Sources told the British broadcaster that the prisoners are from evangelical and Pentecostal denominations, some held at Mai Serwa prison outside the capital Asmara.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) confirmed the news, putting the number released at 27.

In 2002, Eritrea introduced a new law that forbids all churches except for Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Lutheran ones. Sunni Islam is also officially recognised.

The Horn of Africa nation is No. 6 on the Open Doors 2020 World Watch List of the 50 countries in which it is most difficult to live as a Christian.

According to a religious freedom campaigner from Asmara but now based in North America, Hannibal Daniel, believers who’d been in prison for up to 16 years have been freed on bail.

A regional spokesperson for Open Doors International said that, for some time, the group had heard discussion that prisoners might be freed on bail due to the coronavirus pandemic—as has happened in other countries—but could not independently confirm the reports: “If true, this could be quite significant.”

According to CSW sources, the group released consisted of 19 men and 8 women detained without charge or trial for 2 to 16 years. About 54 total releases were anticipated.

However, CSW stated no detained church leaders were released, while a handful more were arrested in Asmara weeks before.

“It is a government strategy,” stated CSW, quoting one of its sources. “They cannot detain everybody, so they keep you for some time, hoping that you will become weak or frightened. Then they put in other people. They release and …

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