Serious Concerns for the Health and Safety of Patriarch Antonios, Head of the Eritrean Orthodox Church in Eritrea

Reliable reports have indicated that the rightful patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, His Holiness Abune Antonios, has been moved to a different accommodation, apparently a ‘better’ building. The situation of the patriarch has not changed however: he is still under house arrest guarded by government security agents and even unable to go to church to pray.

Patriarch Antonios has been the victim of the Eritrean government since 2006, when he was relieved of administrative powers, eventually deposed at the behest of the regime and kept under house arrest. His courage in resisting calls by the authorities to submit his church to total governmental control have made him the victim of an enforced deposition, which has not recognised by the true church.

The patriarch was showcased in the Church of St Mary in Asmara during a liturgical service on Sunday 16th July 2017, but whilst there, he was not allowed to interact with anyone. A visit to the biggest Orthodox church in the country by the head of the Orthodox church would ordinarily feature, at the very least, a prayer conducted by the patriarch and it is an occasion for the father of the Orthodox church in Eritrea to bless the people. It seems the whole ordeal was an attempt to stage a show of reconciliation. A letter was read out during his visit to St Mary but its contents appear to have been different from what was agreed between the patriarch and his detainers.

Perhaps intended as a way of proving that the patriarch has been re-instated to his position from his house arrest, and that the “reconciliation process” which is supposed to have been ongoing within the Orthodox Church has been resolved, the show actually ended with H.H. Abune Antonios being escorted to his new place of detention.

There have been testimonials from Eritrean Orthodox clerics regarding manipulation and tampering by the Eritrean government within the church. The latest theatrics meant to prove that Abune Antonios has reconciled with those clerics organised by the government to serve as a tool that can be used to reverse the patriarch’s decisions of 2006. Notably, Abune Antonios had forbidden those who attempted to remove him forcibly and without due legal process from anointing a patriarch and from consecrating bishops, episcopes, or ordaining priests and deacons. He also excommunicated Mr. Yoftahe Dimetros and instructed him to immediately vacate the position as the chief administrator of the Eritrean Orthodox church. Similarly, he excommunicated Fr. Habtom Russom, deputy secretary of the Synod, for engaging in “an illegal and malicious campaign against the person and authority of the patriarch.”

Attempts by the Eritrean government to replace Abune Antonios have failed so far, most notably when his intended replacement, bishop Dioscoros, died in 2015. Human Rights Concern-Eritrea(HRCE) feels it is important to warn the world of the real dangers facing Patriarch Antonios.

Staging a successful reconciliation would allow the Eritrean government to appoint a new patriarch, and it would be easier for the orthodox faithful to digest any allegation of approval from Abune Antonios to any changes within the church.

HRCE’s Director, Elsa Chyrum, states: “Reports of an earlier attempt to poison him were credible in the context of the regime’s purposes: the death of Patriarch Antonios would certainly be convenient and might be a relief to the regime. His present detention in a secret location could make this only too possible.

It is therefore important that the world understands the ultimate aim of the Eritrean regime, namely, to appoint a pliant replacement for the true patriarch, someone who will parrot government views and take any actions that the regime requires to make the Eritrean Orthodox church into a compliant and willing servant of the state.”

Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)
25 July 2017