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Repression of Orthodox Church in Eritrea continues

Restore Eritrean Orthodox Church’s rightful leader Patriarch in 5 year detention. “The Patriarch never acted as a puppet of the government; rather he stood for peace and justice”.


Alexandra Schofield

Abune Antonios, third Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church, remains detained and deposed without charge by the Eritrean PDFJ government, following his arrest in 2007.

The Patriarch, unanimously elected by the Holy Synod on 5 March 2004 and enthroned on 24th April 2004, is renowned for his dedication and devotion.

Resisting increasingly repressive governmental measures against The Orthodox Church, the country’s largest Christian denomination, he criticised the EDRA’s increasing interference, opposed the excommunication of 3,000 members of the Medhane Alem Orthodox Sunday School movement and demanded that the government release imprisoned Christians accused of treason.

The Patriarch was formally deposed in August 2005 and confined to a purely ceremonial role. He was removed from office in January 2006, when his personal pontifical insignia was confiscated.

On 27th May 2007 the government installed Bishop Dioscoros of Mendefera in his place, in violation of Church constitution and canons. The Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church still recognises Abune Antonios as its genuine and canonical Patriarch.

Reports vary on whether the Patriarch has since been held under house arrest or in an undisclosed location in Asmara.

ICC (International Christian Concern) report that he is kept under strict surveillance, with no phone service and infrequent visitations.

It is further held that the 85- year old Patriarch, an insulin-dependent diabetic, has received no medical attention. The Eritrean government have produced no update on his condition.

The Patriarch’s plight has become a symbol of religious oppression in Eritrea. USCIRF have recommended CPC (Countries of Particular Concern) status since 2004 and in 2012 reported “systematic, ongoing and egregious religious freedom violations” in the country.

Since 2002, the Eritrean government has officially recognised only four religions, including The Eritrean Orthodox Church of which, according to EOCNNA, more than 1,700 Orthodox clergy have been forced out, including 24 imprisoned.

It is estimated that 2000-3000 Christian prisoners are currently detained without charge. Minority ‘unrecognised’ faith citizens are susceptible to arbitrary arrest and detention for both public and private practice. Hundreds have fled the country.

Various human rights organisations, including Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Release International, Release Eritrea, Church on Chains and Human Rights Concern Eritrea, attended an annual protest vigil at the Eritrean Embassy in Islington on 17th May 2012.

Many protesters displayed banners featuring Abune Antonios, now an iconic figure of widespread religious repression in Eritrea which must be brought to international attention.

Please help CSW (Christian Solidarity Worldwide)’s campaign by donating a tweet or financial aid to help give voice to an otherwise silenced cause.

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