Founding member of church dies in prison

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Reverend Ghirmay Araya, a founding member of the Full Gospel Church in Eritrea, has died

Reverend Ghirmay Araya (photo:CSW)

after spending almost three years in a maximum-security facility.

Reverend Araya and another church leader named Reverend Samuel Okbamichael  were seized from their homes on the same night in July 2021 and detained in the Wengel Mermera Central Criminal Investigation Centre, a maximum-security facility linked to the 2nd Police Station in Asmara, where seven church leaders have been held incommunicado for almost 20 years, including Full Gospel Church chairman, Reverend Haile Naizge. Both were semi-retired and in their mid-70s at the time of their arrests.

In May 2002 Eritrea closed all churches not affiliated with the Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran and Orthodox Christian traditions, including the Full Gospel Church. The authorities also launched an ongoing campaign of arbitrary and indefinite arrests which continues to date that has seen thousands of adherents of unrecognised denominations detained in inhumane, life-threatening conditions, and has even impacted members of permitted denominations.

Around 400 Christians are currently estimated to be imprisoned in Eritrea, including over 200 Evangelicals and at least 150 Orthodox adherents. Among these detainees is one of Reverend Ghirmay’s sons who the NGO Release Eritrea reports has been imprisoned for the last seven years. Thirty-six Jehovah’s Witnesses are also currently detained.

CSW’s CEO Scot Bower said: ‘CSW extends our deepest condolences to the loved ones of Reverend Ghirmay Araya, who spent his final years unjustly detained when he should have been with his family. It is unacceptable that the Eritrean government robbed this man of his last three years of life as part of an ongoing campaign of arbitrary and indefinite arrests that illustrates that it continues to commit the crime of persecution. We remember the countless others who remain similarly and unjustly detained in inhumane conditions across the country, and call for the immediate and unconditional release of all of Eritrea’s prisoners of conscience, including those detained on account of their religion or belief. We also call on the Human Rights Council to renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea during its June session, and for the international community to hold the Eritrean government accountable for historic and continuing crimes against humanity.’ — Christian Solidarity Worldwide