13 Eritrean Christians Released After 10 Years in Prison, Christian Ministry Says

By Aliya Kuykendall Published on August 8, 2023

Thirteen Eritrean Christian prisoners, six men and seven women, have been released after being in prison for 10 years, according to a mass email from The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) sent Tuesday morning.

According to VOM’s email, the release came six days after VOM sent a previous email to supporters on July 22.

VOM publicized in multiple ways, including an op-ed published on The Christian Post, that as of July 22, pastors Haile Nayzgi and Kiflu Gebremeskel have faced imprisonment in Eritrea for 7,000 days (19 years and about 2 months). Both men were arrested on May 23, 2004.

VOM shared on their website a sample letter to fax or email to the Eritrean Embassy in Washington D.C. and encouraged supporters to contact the embassy on behalf of Nayzgi and Gebremeskel. Todd Nettleton, Host of VOM radio, said in the email:

I don’t know how many emails and faxes were sent, but some readers told us their emails to the embassy were bouncing back. Perhaps embassy staff turned off their email server to stop the deluge of emails from concerned Christians. Just six days after sending that email, we received word from Christian contacts in Eritrea that 13 Christian prisoners had been set free!

Among Those Still Imprisoned: Two Christian Leaders, Husbands and Fathers

Nayzgi and Gebremeskel remain imprisoned. “I’m saddened that Pastors Nayzgi and Gebremeskel were not among those released. We continue to pray that they will be freed from their prison cells soon, perhaps even as Peter was set free in Acts 12,” Nettleton said.

A webpage on the Korean site for VOM gives details on the two men and their lack of freedom to contact their families:

Pastor Haile Nayzgi was the leader of Eritrea’s Full Gospel Church, comprised of 120 to 150 house meeting groups which were ordered closed by the government decree on May 15, 2002. Pastor Nayzgi is married and has three children. … During his incarceration, Haile has been refused personal contact with his family. …

[Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley] says that Voice of the Martyrs received a message from Pastor Nayzgi smuggled out of Eritrea in which he thanked VOM for supporting his family. …

Dr. Kiflu Gebremeskel, a leading figure of Full Gospel Church of Eritrea, was founder and senior pastor of Southwest Full Gospel Church and member of the executive committee to the Full Gospel Church of Eritrea. … Representative Foley says that his wife and four children have not been able to visit him. 

The State of Christian Persecution and Imprisonment in Eritrea

Nettleton’s email mentioned “350+ other Christians imprisoned in Eritrea.” Open Doors, another Christian organization that supports persecuted Christians around the world, offers another figure: “There are thought to be 1,000 Christians indefinitely detained in Eritrean prisons, not officially charged with anything. Some leaders of ‘unofficial’ churches have been imprisoned in terrible conditions for more than a decade, including solitary confinement in tiny cells.”

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Open Doors publishes an annual World Watch List, ranking nations by the severity of persecution against Christians there. As of the 2023 list published in January, Open Doors ranks Eritrea No. 4 for its extreme persecution of Christians, following North Korea (No. 1), Somalia (No. 2) and Yemen (No. 3).

Open Doors’ webpage on Eritrea describes the state of persecution of Christians in the nation:

Believers in Eritrea continue to suffer extreme persecution, making it one of the hardest places in the world to follow Jesus.

For 20 years, Eritrea has only recognised three official Christian denominations: Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran, and closely monitors these churches. Over the years, government security forces have conducted hundreds of house-to-house raids to catch other Christians. …

The very high level of state-sanctioned persecution and violence against Christians forces some to flee the country, but despite all this the church is actually growing, as Christians show extreme courage and joy and embrace the risk of arrest for Jesus.

The Plight of Those Released

Further down, Open Doors describes the common plight of Christians who are released from prison in Eritrea:

Those who are released are often only released for a temporary period — or they are released for good international press coverage. Upon release from such detention centres, the individual will be ordered to denounce his or her religion and report to the local police on a weekly or monthly basis. Failure to report will lead to further detention.

Let’s pray that this recent release of 13 Christians is not merely temporary and that more believers like Nayzgi and Gebremeskel are released. Let’s also pray that God gives courage to Christians in Eritrea to keep their eyes on Jesus and their future eternal reward so they do not deny Jesus or become discouraged.


Aliya Kuykendall is a staff writer and proofreader for The Stream. You can follow Aliya on Twitter @AliyaKuykendall and follow The Stream @Streamdotorg.

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