Abune Antonios, a confined Eritrean Orthodox Church patriarch and the longest-serving prisoner of conscience within the Horn of Africa, died on February 9 on the age of 94.
He was nonetheless serving detention within the Eritrean capital, Asmara, after his arrest in 2006 simply two years after his set up because the third patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church. For 16 years, he was stored in solitary confinement below the orders of the nation’s authoritarian chief, President Isaias Afwerki, for his resistance to authorities interference within the historical church.
“It is rather unlucky that the patriarch died whereas in detention. There was no motive for the federal government of Eritrea to place him in detention,” Francis Kuria, the secretary normal of the African Council of Non secular Leaders, instructed RNS. “The Orthodox Church in Eritrea and elsewhere is at all times very supportive of the folks’s growth.”
Archbishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church in London introduced the loss on social media, saying the patriarch had handed away “after a protracted battle with sickness, and an much more painful battle with injustice.”
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Antonios was buried yesterday in Asmara at a monastery to which he belonged. A big crowd gathered on the burial web site, a lot of whom had traveled lengthy distances on foot, based on experiences.
“We pray repose for His Holiness, and luxury and assist for our #EritreanOrthodox sisters and brothers in Eritrea, Britain and around the globe,” mentioned Angaelos in a February 9 tweet.
The patriarch’s demise in detention is more likely to widen the break up within the Eritrean Orthodox Church, triggered by Antonios’ elimination and mistreatment.
In 2007, with the assist of the Eritrean authorities, Antonios was changed as patriarch by Abune Dioskoros. Nevertheless, many adherents and clergy each in Eritrea and within the diaspora continued to comply with Antonios throughout his detention.
Very early in his reign as Patriarch, Abune Antonios confronted state interference inside his church. He resisted authorities requests that he excommunicate 3,000 members and protested the arrest of monks. On January 20, 2006, authorities notified Patriarch Antonios he could be eliminated as Patriarch and positioned him below home arrest.
One yr later, on January 20, 2007, authorities confiscated Patriarch Antonios’ private pontifical insignia. On Could 27, 2007, the Eritrean authorities changed Patriarch Antonios with Bishop Dioscoros of Mendefera, forcefully eliminated the Patriarch from his dwelling, and detained him at an undisclosed location. Patriarch Antonios continues to be held incommunicado and is reportedly being denied medical care regardless of affected by extreme diabetes. On July 16, 2017, authorities allowed Antonios to make a public look for the primary time in over a decade. Whereas below heavy safety, Antonios attended mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Asmara, however was prevented from giving a sermon or subsequently talking with congregants. Three days later, on July 19, the federal government moved Antonios to a brand new location, reportedly to supply higher dwelling circumstances.
In 2019, bishops of the Holy Synod of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church excommunicated Antonios, accusing him of heresy. The transfer was condemned by the Standing Convention of Oriental Orthodox Church buildings.
Antonios’ demise introduced again into focus the continued persecution and lack of non secular freedom in Eritrea.
Eritrea’s authoritarian regime, one of the repressive on the planet, usually arbitrarily arrests, detains, and imprisons its folks because of their faith, based on human rights and anti-persecution teams.
The US State Division estimates there are millions of prisoners held for his or her religion. USCIRF contains greater than 45 circumstances on its Victims List; Abune Antonios was listed as Prisoner #260.
For the time being, solely the Roman Catholic Church, Coptic Orthodox Church, Sunni Islam, and the Lutheran Church-affiliated Evangelical Church of Eritrea are the legally permitted spiritual teams.
Some spiritual leaders from the Orthodox, Full Gospel, and Jehovah’s Witness faiths have remained in imprisonment for greater than 15 years, based on human rights organizations. World Watch Monitor chronicles many incidents.
“We enchantment to the federal government of Eritrea to create a conducive setting the place freedom of faith and perception is absolutely exercised. There needs to be no motive to jail spiritual (folks for his or her religion),” mentioned Kuria. “The federal government ought to assist spiritual leaders as companions. The motion to constrain faith and spiritual leaders is counter productive.”
In line with Kuria, the issue in Eritrea is that the federal government clamps down on any different voices—even the very delicate and conservative—in a want to be the one supply of authority.
Antonios was arrested after he turned essential of presidency excesses and resisted continued interference in Orthodox Church affairs by officers.
Whereas in detention, Antonios had been denied the appropriate to attend church companies and was not allowed any guests, together with his followers, clergy, or relations. He was not given an opportunity to problem his detention in a courtroom of regulation.
“Regardless of 16 years of unremitting stress, mistreatment, and defamation, the patriarch by no means compromised, even when it could have led to his reinstatement,” mentioned Mervyn Thomas, founder and president of CSW (Christian Solidarity Worldwide), in a February 10 assertion. “He selected as a substitute to guard the integrity and doctrine of the church with which he had been entrusted at the price of freedom and luxury in his twilight years.”
Thomas urged the worldwide group to honor the patriarch’s brave stand for freedom of faith by galvanizing efforts to safe the discharge of three Orthodox monks for whom Antonios advocated in addition to 1000’s of others detained on account of conscience, faith, and perception.
Extra reporting by CT