By BosNewsLife Senior Special Correspondent Eric Leijenaar
ASMARA, ERITREA (BosNewsLife)– Three women were free Friday, May 8, as Eritrean authorities unexpectedly released them from a notorious military prison camp where they were detained for six months because of their membership of a “banned” Christian movement, an advocacy group with close knowledge of the situation said.
Netherlands-based Open Doors said the women, identified as Aatifa, Samara and Zula, which are not their real names, were detained after openly expressing their Christian faith in a predominantly Muslim village.
“Samara and Zula are ex-Muslims who only recently became Christians,” Open Doors told BosNewsLife in a statement. Since 2002 only the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Churches are allowed in the African nation, although church leaders have complained of harassment. Especially Evangelical “Bible believing Christians” are facing arrest and imprisonment, Open Doors and other groups said.
“The three women are accused of belonging to a Pentecostal movement,” explained Open Doors. It said the problems began after Zula told her friend about her Christian conversion. “He became so angry that he arranged her arrest. She was taken to a military camp where her hands and feet were tied together” apparently with robes, Open Doors explained.
“They tied me up and took me outside and lay me down. A soldier made fun of my faith in front of the military leadership of the camp,” Zula said in published remarks seen by BosNewsLife. “I remembered that my friend Samara learned me about following Christ in His suffering and that I had to regard the mistreatment and pain as joy,” she added.
Open Doors confirmed that after Zula was tied for a full day and night, she faced tough interrogations. “She was threatened with a pistol and forced to name the person who told her about Jesus Christ. Zula couldn’t face the pressure and mentioned Samara’s name who was later arrested and brought to the camp. Another woman, Aatifa, was also detained there,” Open Doors explained.
After half-a-year, the women were “unexpectedly brought to the leader of the camp and were told they could be freed under condition that they would stop preaching the Gospel and not tell anyone about their stay in the camp,” Open Doors investigators said.
In a statement, the women said however that they told him they were “no enemies of the Eritrean people or of the government. The Bible teaches us that we have to obey the government.” However they said not preaching the Gospel would go against their conviction.
After consulting with a collegue “who so not bad intention in the words of the women”, the camp leader decided to free the women, saying “what we need is that they obey the government,” Open Doors said.
The women said they saw their freedom as “the work of God.” They added that “the Lord spread confusion within the camp leadership. To keep the peace they let us go, without conditions.”
The three women were reportedly detained in a camp some 150 kilometers west of the Eritrean capital Asmara. Over 2,800 Christians remain in military camps and other detention facilities, some of them already several years, according to church groups, Western diplomats and religious rights organizations.