Eritrea has been referred to as “The Hidden Gem in Africa” because of its rich history and natural attractions. Yahoo! published a travel article in 2007, advertising
Eritrea as a prime family vacation destination. The article mentions ancient ruins, scuba diving, snorkeling, and religious attractions. It describes Eritrea’s town of Asmara as a place where Christians and Muslims harmoniously coexist.
In reality, Eritrea is suffering from an oppressive government, which has not changed presidents since 1993 and often arrests people practicing a religion other than one of the four registered religions – Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Sunni Muslim.
This past May 37 Christian students from the College of Arts and Social Sciences in the Eritrean town of Adi Kihe and five men from the Church of the Living God in Asmara were arrested for practicing an unregistered strain of Christianity, Charisma News reported.
“Eritrea is one of the most repressive, secretive, and inaccessible countries in the world,” Amnesty International’s Eritrea Researcher, Claire Beston, told the BBC.
According to the U.S. State Department International Religious Freedom Report for 2012, 1,500 people were imprisoned in Eritrea because of their religious beliefs last year. At least 105 arrests were Christians, 31 of which died in prison, the World Watch List reported.
The government began cracking down on unregistered churches since 2002, and persecution has only worsened. While a variety of religions are under attack, underground Christian churches experience the most persecution. “In terms of being completely banned, it’s the minority churches that have suffered the most – the Pentecostal Church, the Evangelical Church – they are the ones that have been stigmatized and been accused of all sorts of things by their communities and by other faith groups,” Selam Kidane, Director of Release Eritrea, told World Watch Monitor.
Eritrea’s religious demographic varies by source. The PEW Research Center reports the population is 62.9 percent Christian (mostly Oriental Orthodox, the rest Roman Catholic) and 36.5 percent Muslim. The US Department of State, on the other hand, reports 50 percent Sunni Muslim, 30 percent Orthodox Christian, and 13 percent Roman Catholic. President Isaias Afwerki, like 9 out of 10 Christians in Eritrea, is Orthodox Christian.