ERITREA (BP) -- A Christian woman perished from pneumonia in an Eritrean prison after facing harsh conditions and denial of medical treatment -- all because she would not renounce her faith.
Open Doors, an
organization supporting the global persecuted church, reported this week
that Wehazit Berhane Debesai is the 25th known Christian to have died
in prison in Eritrea. According to the report, the exact date of death
of the woman in her 30s is unknown. Eritrean authorities arrested her a
year ago. They held her near the Ethiopian border for being involved in
Christian activities outside the Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical
Lutheran church groups.
Debesai's death came as government
forces arrested 70 Christians who met for prayer in the capital of
Asmara, according to Open Doors. It is the third time the pastor who led
the prayer event has been thrown in prison for his faith. This latest
development brings the total number of Christians arrested this year in
Eritrea to nearly 300. Local Christians call it the government's most
serious campaign against the church so far.
In what may be a
separate event, according to conflicting reports, government security
forces arrested 185 Christians praying together in a suburb to the north
of Asmara. According to Release International, a United Kingdom-based
group serving the persecuted church, most of those arrests involved
"Our Eritrean partners say church leaders fear this mass
arrest could herald a new clampdown on Christians and a wave of further
detentions," Paul Robinson, chief executive of Release International,
told the UK-based charity Cross Rhythms.
The Christians were
believed to have gathered to pray for the country's refugee crisis. The
United Nations reports thousands of Eritreans try to flee every month
despite an alleged "shoot-to-kill" policy by security forces against
anyone attempting to escape.
"The arrest has alarmed underground church leaders, who fear that this may be a sign of things to come," Robinson said.
to International Christian Concern, an organization supporting
persecuted believers, Eritrea is one of the world's worst persecutors of
Christians. More than 2,000 Christians are believed to have been
imprisoned for their faith.
All churches not sanctioned by the
government were outlawed in 2002, and their leaders have been arrested
since then. Religious groups the government does allow to operate do so
under severe restrictions and are also persecuted.
An Open Doors observer asked for Christians to pray for their fellow believers who remain in prison for their faith.
are secluded in underground dungeons, metal shipping containers and
military detention centers. They face exposure, hard labor and
insufficient food, water and hygiene," the observer said. "They are
regularly denied medical treatment for malaria and pneumonia which they
contracted while in prison or diseases such as diabetes, hypertension or
cancer that they may have had prior to imprisonment."
Eritrea is ranked No. 10 on the Open Doors 2013 World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians.
John Evans is a writer in Houston. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).