WASHINGTON, D.C. – January 20, 2017 marks the 11-year anniversary of the Eritrean government’s illegal removal of Abune Antonios as the rightful Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the nation’s largest religious community. The Patriarch has been detained since 2007: His “crime” was his refusal to excommunicate 3,000 parishioners who opposed the government.
“The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) calls on the Eritrean government to release Abune Antonios, allow him to return to his position as Patriarch, and cease its interference in the Eritrean Orthodox Church,” said USCIRF Chair Rev. Thomas J. Reese, S.J. “The government’s persecution of Patriarch Antonios is only one example of the country’s grave religious freedom violations. Eritrea has been called the North Korea of Africa due to its vigorous assault on the rights of its people: Thousands are imprisoned for their religious beliefs and their real or imagined opposition to the government.”
One year after removing the Patriarch, Eritrean authorities confiscated his personal pontifical insignia. On May 27, 2007, the Eritrean government forcibly removed Patriarch Antonios from his home and placed him under house arrest at an undisclosed location. He remains detained and is denied medical care despite severe heath concerns.
Chair Reese has taken up the case of Patriarch Antonios as part of USCIRF’s Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project.
The Eritrean government engages in systematic and egregious violations of religious freedom, including torture or other ill treatment of religious prisoners, arbitrary arrests and detentions without charges, a prolonged ban on public religious activities of unregistered religious groups, and interference in the internal affairs of registered religious groups.
President Isaias Afwerki and the Popular Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) have ruled Eritrea with absolute authority since the country’s 1993 independence from Ethiopia. Private newspapers, political opposition parties, and independent nongovernmental organizations are not allowed in Eritrea. The government requires all physically and mentally capable people between the ages of 18 and 70 to perform national service full-time and indefinitely.
In 2016, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea concluded that Eritrean authorities had committed crimes against humanity.
Since 2004, USCIRF has recommended, and the State Department has designated, Eritrea a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, for its systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom. For more information, please see USCIRF’s chapter on Eritrea in the 2016 Annual Report.
USCIRF’s Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project highlights the plight of individuals who have been imprisoned for their religious beliefs, practices or identity. To learn more about this project or to interview a Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at [email protected] or 202-523-3258.