By BosNewsLife Africa Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos and Joseph DeCaro
ASMARA, ERITREA (BosNewsLife)– A young Christian woman has died in a military prison in Eritrea after “two weeks of torture and harsh treatment,” representatives said in comments monitored by BosNewsLife Tuesday, January 25.
Seble Hagos Mebrahtu, 27, died in the military training center in Sawa on New Year’s Day after she was refused medical treatment for malaria, said Open Doors USA, an advocacy group supporting reportedly persecuted Christians in Eritrea and other countries.
It was not clear how long the young woman had been in prison.
Open Doors USA quoted sources as saying that the woman was detained after being caught reading a Bible in her bedroom.
Mebrahtu is the 16th known death of a Christian in one of Eritrea’s most notorious detention facilities since a government crackdown in 2002 banned all churches and religious groups operating outside the state approved Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran and Islamic traditions.
As of November 2010 at least some 1,500 Christians are held in prisons for their faith, according to Eritrean church leaders. Other Christian sources say that figure could be higher. “Their families sometimes [are ]waiting years to hear any news of their welfare,” Open Doors USA added.
Rights investigators said that scores more Christians were detained in recent weeks including 41 members of the evangelical Philadelphia Church who were reportedly detained in the capital Asmara on December 31.
Open Doors quoted eyewitnesses as saying that the Christians were taken to a police station where they allegedly endured beatings. “Apart from a handful of members who happened to be out of town at the time of the arrest, the whole Philadelphia congregation in Asmara was taken in.”
Additionally, on January 1, 27 Evangelical believers of various underground churches near Asmara were taken into custody by Eritrean security forces, Christians said. They were believed to be held Tuesday, January 25, at the notorious Police Station Number 5.
Open Doors said that that another 35 Evangelical believers were detained January 9 in the town of Nakfa. “Those arrested included 15 women and two elderly men in poor health. They were taken from the home of one of the believers as they were having a worship meeting.”
Eritrea is listed as number 12 on the Open Doors 2011 World Watch List of countries where it says Christians face most persecution. Treatment of Christian prisoners are among key concerns mentioned by rights watchers.
Besides recent cases, Open Doors supporters last week remembered Christian Mehari Gebreneguse Asgedom who died January 16, 2010, in what Christians described as “a small isolation cell the size of a shipping container.”
He was allegedly denied medical treatment for complications from diabetes and injuries sustained from torture in Eritrea’s notorious Mitire Military Confinement Center.
The Eritrean government has defended its crackdown on churches and devoted Christians who worship outside government control.
President Isaias Afewerki is known to have said that several religious groups were “duped by foreigners” who sought to “distract from the unity of the Eritrean people and distort the true meaning of religion.”