By BosNewsLife Africa Service with reporting by BosNewsLife's Joseph DeCaro
ASMARA, ERITREA (BosNewsLife)-- There was new concern Tuesday, November 22, about the plight of Christians in Eritrea amid reports that at least three believers died in recent weeks because of mistreatment in the African country's notorious prison camps.
Open Doors, a major advocacy group with close ties to Eritrean Christians, said wholesale store employees Terhase Gebremichel Andu, 28, and Ferewine Genzabu Kifly, 21, died last month as "a result of starvation and untreated health problems."
The two women were held in "a dungeon-like cell" at the Adersete Military Camp in western Eritrea after they were detained in 2009 during a Christian worship meeting in a private home, Open Doors added, citing local sources.
Within weeks of Andu's death on October 16, and Kifly's death on October 22, another Christian, identified as 26-year-old Angesom Teklom Habtemichel also passed away in an Eritrean military camp "after serving two years" Open Doors said.
He reportedly contracted severe malaria but was denied medical treatment because of his written refusal to recant his Christian faith. The number of believers in Christ now dying in the country while serving time in prison for their belief totals at least 21, according to Open Doors estimates.
Among other reported cases since August was the death of Mehari Gebreneguse Asgedom who Christians said passed away at the Mitire Military Confinement center from "both torture and complications from diabetes."
Asgedom belonged to the evangelical Church of the Living God in the city of Mendeferam some 54 kilometers (33 miles) south of the capital Asmara.
Also in Mitire, Mogos Hagos Kiflom, 37, reportedly died as a result of torture after refusing to recant his faith. A member of Rhema Church, Kiflom is survived by a wife and child, Christians said.
In October, Open Doors also reported the death of Teklesenbet Gebreab Kiflom, 36, at the Wi'a Military Confinement center. He reportedly died after prison officers refused him medical attention for malaria.
Eritrean church leaders say at least 1,500 believers are currently detained for their faith in Christ, in jails ranging from shipping containers to other cramped locations in for prison camps and other facilities. Other sources say that number may be higher.
Many of those detained are evangelical Christians as evangelical churches remain closed following the ban on all religions other than Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran or Islamic groups in 2002, according to rights activists.
Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki has defended the policies saying several religious groups are "duped by foreigners", seeking to "distract from the unity of the Eritrean people and distort the true meaning of religion."
Open Doors placed Eritrea on number 12 of its annual World Watch List of 50 countries with the "worst" reported persecution cases of Christians.