20 August 2022

Imprisoned church leaders in Eritrea desperately need your continuing prayers

Since 2002, thousands of Christians in Eritrea accused of gathering illegally – because they don’t belong to state-approved church denominations – have been arrested and imprisoned in the country’s vast network of prisons. Please join us as we continue to pray for our persecuted church family who are still serving prison sentences for their faith. 

Many of these church leaders have been in prison since the early 2000s – please keep praying for them

Over the last 20 years, thousands of Christians who fall outside the recognised church denominations in Eritrea have been accused of gathering illegally, arrested and imprisoned – and many are still serving sentences. The Eritrean Orthodox Church (EOC), the Catholic church and the Lutheran church are the only Christian denominations recognised by the government.

Yasin (name changed), Open Doors’ director for East Africa, stated, “The church in Eritrea remains in great need of prayer. The government still has the same ideology that drove them to clamp down on Christians. We have seen that the pressure has increased on the church in 2021. The pandemic offered an excuse for the government to be even more controlling than ever. The church remains under intense surveillance, and the situation has worsened since the outbreak of the war in Tigray.” 

‘Raids, imprisonment and torture’ for Christians from ‘unrecognised faiths’ 

Human Rights Watch 2021 confirmed that the situation remains dire. “Eritreans affiliated with ‘unrecognized’ faiths risk raids on their homes, imprisonment, and torture; release requires written renunciation of religious affiliation… Eritreans are subject to arrest and incarceration for long periods, without trial or opportunity to appeal. Imprisonment is frequent in vastly overcrowded cells or in shipping containers. Ill-treatment is common, including torture.” 

While Christians are arrested and released in waves, there are several prominent pastors who have been incarcerated for more than a decade. Most of them are kept in solitary confinement at Wongel Mermera in Asmara, the capital. This prison is believed to be one of the cruellest interrogation centres, with ‘shelas’ – dungeon-like solitary confinement cells. Prisoners are interrogated and often beaten all over their bodies, including the soles of their feet. 

Please join us as we pray for our persecuted church family who are still serving prison sentences. Many of them are in solitary confinement and suffering from ill-health (both physical and mental): 

Pastor Haile Naigzhi 

In May 2022 it will be 17 years since the former leader of Eritrea’s Full Gospel/Kale Hiwot Church was arrested. He was taken from his home during the early hours of 23 May 2004 and brought to Wongel Mermera in Asmara, where he remains. He is believed to be in poor health. His wife and children fled the country in 2013 after they received credible information that the government wanted to arrest them; they have been granted asylum abroad.  

Loving God, comfort Pastor Naigzhi and draw near to him today. Remind him that he is Your beloved child. 

Dr Kiflu Gebremeskel  

He was also taken from his home early one morning in May 2004. Before he was taken, he served as a leading figure in the Full Gospel Church of Eritrea. His wife and four children have not been allowed to visit him since his arrest. Dr Kiflu has recently been seen frequently visiting hospital under tight security, and it is suspected that he has developed stress-related hypertension and diabetes.  

Loving God, we pray for Your healing hand on Dr Gebremeskel. Give the doctors treating him the compassion and wisdom they need. 

Pastor Million Gebreselasie  

Pastor Million was arrested on 3 June 2004, five days after Pastor Tesfasion Hagos (since released and granted asylum) visited his church and home and was arrested while there. He was arrested at a police checkpoint just before entering Asmara as he was returning Pastor Tesfatsion’s belongings to his home. He was held for about two months at a police station before being relocated to Wongel Mermera where he is held to date. His only family – his sister – has been granted asylum abroad. 

Loving God, draw near to Pastor Million and his sister today. May they know that You are always with them and that You love them deeply. 

Futsum Gebrenegus 

He’s an Orthodox priest and was arrested in November 2004 for allegedly being involved in the renewal movement within the Orthodox Church. He was also Eritrea’s only psychiatrist. His wife has since passed away. He has one child who still resides in Eritrea; he was very young when his father was taken into custody and is now reportedly struggling with mental health issues. 

Loving God, we pray You would surround Futsum and his son with Your love, peace and healing power today. Sustain them and strengthen them by Your Holy Spirit. 

Gebremedhin Gebregiorsis  

He is an Orthodox priest who also was arrested in November 2004 for allegedly being involved in the renewal movement within the Orthodox Church. He has six children, most of who are still living in Eritrea. 

Loving God, be with Gebremedhin and his family today. Fill him with Your Spirit and reunite him with his family. 

Tekleab Menghisteab  

Tekleab Menghisteab is a highly respected physician and Orthodox priest who was arrested in Nov 2004, also for alleged involvement in the renewal movement within the Orthodox Church. His family has found asylum abroad. He is suffering from severe damage to his eyes. 

Loving God, be Tekleab’s light in the darkness. May he experience Your tangible presence with him, and bring healing to his eyes. 

Kidane Weldou  

Pastor Weldou of the Full Gospel Church disappeared in 2005. When his vehicle was found abandoned, his family assumed that he had been arrested. Like all the other families, his wife and children have no access to him, but sources say he has been seen at an eye clinic and it is suspected that his eyes have been damaged over the years (possibly by diabetes exacerbated by the poor living conditions).  

Loving God, pour out Your healing power on Kidane today. Give the prison guards compassion that they may better treat the prisoners in their care.

Abune Antonios 

Deposed Orthodox Patriarch Abune Antonios, now aged 94, was stripped of the title in 2007 and placed under house arrest. He remains at a home in Asmara in very poor health.  

Loving God, comfort Abune in his home. Fill him with Your love, joy and peace. 

Rev. Ogbamichael Teklehaimanot 

Rev. Teklehaimanot the senior pastor of the Full Gospel/Kale Hiwot Church, was arrested for participating in a Protestant wedding ceremony in Barentu in January 2005 and imprisoned in a police station in Asmara. He was subjected to 10 months of solitary confinement and hard labour at Sawa military camp as punishment. He was first held in Barentu for six years, released, then re-arrested after six months when a fleeing church member who was being monitored by authorities called him. He was released in June 2018 in very poor health, but is said to have made a good recovery. 

Loving God, we thank You for Rev. Teklehaimanot’s release. Restore him and revive him after his ordeal. 

  • For the Lord’s provision, comfort and hope for these leaders enduring their imprisonment for so many years
  • For the Lord’s continued comfort to their families as they await their release
  • That the Eritrean government will see the wrongs they are committing against these leaders and set them free.
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