More than 20 female Christian prisoners have been freed in Eritrea but the forces of the country have been accused of attacking churches in a nearby Ethiopian region.
The 21 women, all reportedly young mothers, had been captured last August and held in an island prison on the Red Sea after being arrested in 2017.
Their arrests were the result of a series of raids on underground churches by authorities in Eritrea, Christian Today reports.
Many of the women's husbands had been conscripted, thus leaving the children without care.
Several instances of spontaneous releases of Christian prisoners have taken place over the past six months. In February, 70 believers were freed in addition to an earlier 27 who were released in Sept. 2020.
171 Christians have been freed since Aug. 2020.
More than 100 Christians remain in Eritrean prisons while about 150 Christian prisoners are believed to be detained by the army, according to Release International.
But attacks on Tigay are said to be overshadowing the releases as Eritrean forces bear down on the Ethiopian region.
In the city of Axum, around 800 people were killed in one attack, including many priests and church members.
The attack was believed to be against the Church of St. Mary of Zion in Axum, which Ethiopians believe is the home of the Ark of the Covenant from the Old Testament.
Eritrea has denied involvement in the Tigray fighting. Local witnesses to the attacks, however, have reported some troops identifying themselves as Eritrean.
Release International CEO Paul Robinson says these attacks make it far too soon to take the prisoner releases in Eritrea as any sign of a change in heart towards Christianity.
"The attacks on churches in Tigray are appalling, and Eritrea continues to hold many senior pastors who have been detained indefinitely—some for up to 17 years ... Until all are set free and the killing of Christians stops, it's too soon to talk of lasting change," Robinson says.
Eritrea is ranked sixth on the Open Doors World Watch List for the religious persecution of Christians. Persecution in the African country takes the form of denominational protectionism and is at extreme levels, according to the faith-based persecution watchdog.