Eritrean Orthodox Church
An Eritrean Orthodox Church (World Watch Monitor)

Two Pentecostal Christians are reported to have died in Eritrea on 17 March, days after being transferred to a hospital from detention, where they had been on hunger strike.

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide the two women were detained in Wi’a military camp before being transported to Massawa Hospital in critical condition on 12 March They had embarked on a hunger strike in protest at the abuse they were receiving in detention, and their bodies were allegedly marked with bruising consistent with sexual abuse.

Reports have also emerged of the arrests of a significant number of Christians on Christmas Eve 2016 in the capital city Asmara, after they had been caught praying. They were allegedly transported barefoot to an unknown location.

Eritrea, a small country in East Africa, is one of the countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian and ranks as number 10 on the 2017 World Watch List.

The government outlawed worship outside of Islam and the Orthodox, Evangelical Lutheran and Roman Catholic Church in 2002, driving all other Christian churches underground as they faced varying degrees of restrictions and attacks. Since then, thousands of Christians have been arrested and incarcerated without benefitting from a legal process. Among them are a number of prominent church leaders arrested in 2004, who remain incarcerated today, almost 12 years later.

Those representing the religious institutions that are allowed, however, also face harassment. The Head of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Patriarch Abune Antonios, was removed from his position in 2007 after criticising the Eritrean government for interference in church activities. Two priests accompanied by government security agents entered the Patriarch’s residence and confiscated his personal pontifical insignia. He was replaced by Abune Dioskoros – a development orchestrated by the Eritrean government. Patriarch Antonios, who has never been charged with any offence, remains under house arrest and strict state surveillance.

In a report last year the United Nations Human Rights Council said that Eritrea should be referred to the International Criminal Court for “systematic, gross and widespread crimes against humanity”, including abuses of religious freedom