Eritrean authorities are punishing 39 high school students for their Christian faith, excluding them from a graduation ceremony and subjecting them to beatings and hard labour, according to Christian support organization Open Doors.
After completing a four-month military training required in Eritrea, the students, including 11 girls, have been arrested for their “Christian beliefs and for their commitment to Christ,” sources told Open Doors.
“The youths are now enduring beating, forced hard labour and insufficient food and water” at the SAWA military training centre, the organization reported in a press statement. “Sources said authorities are also threatening the students with long imprisonment and exclusion from university should they ‘fail to renounce Christ.’”
After completing school, all Eritreans are required to participate in national service. The 39 students were selected out from 17,000 students of the 26th national service intake who graduated on July 13, according to Open Doors. Graduating students then continue to Senior Secondary School to complete grade 12.
Since 2002, worship outside the government-sanctioned Sunni Muslim, Eritrean Orthodox Church (EOC), Roman Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran Church of Eritrea has been forbidden, with Protestant worship a criminal offence. In 2005, authorities also began persecuting the EOC, particularly those in the church’s renewal movement.