Pastor Oqbamichel Haiminot, senior pastor of the Kale Hiwot (Word of Life) Church became the first senior Eritrean church leader to be imprisoned for his Christian activities in 2003. At that time, he spent a few weeks in prison.
He was arrested again on Jan. 9, 2005 for participating in a wedding ceremony in western Eritrea, along with 66 other evangelicals, including the bride and groom. Government officials told relatives that the group had been taken to the Sawa military center for “military punishment.”
Most of the Christians arrested were gradually released over the next few months, but Pastor Oqbamichel and five others were kept in detention. Their military captors tried to force them to sign papers recanting their faith. When Pastor Oqbamichel refused, he was put in solitary confinement and suffered extreme abuse. At times, the soldiers would force him to carry rocks up the mountain. After four months of inhumane conditions, the pastor suffered a mental breakdown and was subsequently released.
However, he was rearrested in the capital city of Asmara on Oct. 1, 2007 after a monitored church member called his phone. Today, he remains imprisoned in the 5th Police Station.
Pastor Oqbamichel was raised in a Sudan Interior Mission (SIM) orphanage in Dekemhare. He studied and worked hard to become a teacher, then manager of the orphanage before finally taking on the role of pastor. After several years working in a smaller church, he was asked to take responsibility of the Kale Hiwot denomination in Asmara. He is described as a passionate preacher, caring pastor and an extremely hard-working church leader. Pastor Oqbamichel is married with three children.
Churches such as Kale Hiwot have been illegal in Eritrea ever since the government banned all religious groups except the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches along with Sunni Islam.