On September 23, 2020, Barnabas Fund received news and subsequent confirmation from their contacts on the ground that Eritrea has formally released 69 Christian prisoners of conscience- some of whom have been in imprisoned for almost two decades- in a new wave of releases. This major step follows the September 4th release of 27 Christians, predominantly men, from Mai Serwa Prison located in the Eritrean capital of Asmara.
Though it is believed that these releases are taking place as a protective measure against the extremely contagious COVID-19, many Eritrean Christians are hoping that the tides are turning for religious minorities. One Christian leader, Dr. Berhanse Asmelash, explains, “Christianity is not a crime. There is no crime being done apart from believing in God. I am very glad the government is taking this positive action….We expect more to be released. This is an answer to prayer. Thousands of Christians have been praying for this.”
One concern that Dr. Asmelash raises, however, is the possibility that some of the released prisoners may be confronted with new problems such as homelessness, difficulty re-integrating into society, and rekindling relationships. Some of the released prisoners have spent up to 16 years in Mai Serwa Prison, and will have no assistance from the Eritrean government in terms of rehabilitation.
Lastly, Dr. Asmelah explains that, not only should we be praying for the Eritrean Christians and religious prisoners of conscience that continue to deteriorate in prison, but we should continue praying for those who are released: “People have souls and minds that will need healing. They need to rehabilitate. We need to pray that they will recover from their trauma.”
Photo by Olli Homann on Flickr.