On the 12th of March 2019, during Eritrea’s review by the UN Human Rights Committee, which monitors implementation by States of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Mr. Adem Osman Idris, First Secretary and Chargé d’affaires, from the Permanent Mission of Eritrea to the United Nations Office in Geneva told the Committee that the Eritrean government has not interfered in any way in Abune Antonios’ affairs, and stated instead that it is the Eritrean Orthodox Church Synod that decided to remove the Patriarch from his position and put him under house arrest.
This statement is an outrageous distortion of the truth!
Before 2006, Patriarch Antonios, the Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church had been resisting the Eritrean government’s increasing encroachment in church affairs, and had refused to excommunicate 3,000 members of the Orthodox Church’s Sunday School movement.
From 2006 to 2019, the legitimate Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church has been in effect imprisoned by the Eritrean government being held continuously under house arrest;
The original deposing of Patriarch Abune Anonios from his position in 2006 was totally illegal, engineered by Mr. Yoftahe Dimetros, a layman who had no legitimate authority within the Eritrean Orthodox church. He was appointed and imposed on the Church as “Chief Administrator by the Eritrea government with the intention of achieving full control of the Eritrean Church Orthodox Church. In his letter of 15th January 2006 concerning his illegal removal, Patriarch Antonius wrote, “the false accusations that you have raised against me, and used for my illegal removal, are neither within the bounds of the legal framework of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church, nor substantive enough to merit the slightest consideration.”
His Holiness Patriarch Antonios has been held incommunicado under house arrest ever since January 2006, when he was forced out of office, in violation of canon law, following an illegally convened meeting of the Holy Synod.
In a further contravention of canon law, Patriarch Antonios was “replaced” in 2007 by a government-approved, Bishop Dioscoros, who was never recognised by the Oriental Orthodox Church, of which the Eritrean Orthodox Church is a member) died in 2015. His position has since remained vacant due to the universal opposition the government faces for its control of the Church and support to the imprisoned pontiff both in Eritrea and internationally. The government, however, still runs the Church using, a collaborator bishop named Aba Lucas Gebrehiwot.
Human Rights Concern-Eritrea (HRCE) also disputes the accuracy and truth of the supposed “confession” by Patriarch Abune Antonius reported by pro-government church “administrators” in Eritrea. On 2nd August 2016, they stated that Patriarch Antonius had signed a paper apologizing for all the supposed “mistakes” he had committed and “expressing regret for the resulting consequences for himself and the church.”
It is not known what pressures had been put upon the elderly Patriarch, in a country where horrific forms of torture are practised, and indeed whether any such confession was made under severe duress. Without independent confirmation, the news of his supposed “confession” reported by the Eritrean Government cannot be regarded as trustworthy or credible.
The Patriarch was persuaded to attend a ceremony in St. Mary’s church, Asmara, on 16th July 2017, but this turned out to be nothing but a “showcase” appearance at which he was not allowed by the Eritrean regime to speak to anyone. The ceremony was supposed to be one of “reconciliation”, but no such process took place.
After this, Patriarch Antonios was immediately moved to different accommodation, still under guard by security agents of the Eritrean regime, and has been kept in detention ever since.
Patriarch Antonios has been forced to live in the service accommodation of the house of the “acting” Patriarch, Aba Lucas Gebrehiwot. The government has assigned a priest as a security agent, to closely monitor Abune Antonios’ day-to- day activities. The government is making Abune Antonios’ life miserable, and appears to have no concern for the Patriarch’s health. Patriarch Antonios suffers from high blood pressure, diabetes, and back pain. The government denies Abune Antonios access to medical treatment. On one occasion Abune Antonios was ill with severe tooth ache, but the government denied him treatment; and on another occasion, when Abune Antonios was suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting, the government yet again denied him medical treatment.
Human Rights Concern Eritrea believes it is vital that the truth about the removal of the ninety-three-year-old legally recognized Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church and his subsequent detention be widely known, and that all false accounts of his treatment be identified and exposed for what they are – fictional fabrications by a regime with no respect for truth.
Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)