Washington, D.C. – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) mourns the passing of Patriarch Abune Antonios, the former leader of the Eritrean Orthodox Church. Patriarch Antonios died on February 9, 2022, at the age of 94 after spending a decade and a half under house arrest because of his religious beliefs and advocacy.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Patriarch Antonios. For 16 years, he was unable to leave his home or communicate freely with the outside world, all because he stood up for prisoners of conscience and resisted state demands to excommunicate members of his church,” said USCIRF Commissioner Jim Carr who advocated for Patriarch Antonios as part of the Religious Prisoners of Conscience (RPOC) Project.
In April 2004, Patriarch Abune Antonios was ordained head of the Eritrean Orthodox Church. However, after condemning government interference in church affairs and calling for the release of imprisoned Christians, Eritrean authorities removed him from his position in January 2006 and placed him under house arrest. In May 2007, the patriarch was forcibly disappeared from his residence and taken to an undisclosed location. He was reportedly denied proper medical care throughout his custody.
“Eritrean authorities must be held accountable for the mistreatment of religious prisoners of conscience in their custody.” USCIRF Commissioner Carr added. “Detention until death on the basis of one’s religious beliefs or activity is absolutely unacceptable. The Eritrean government should be better than this.”
In its 2021 Annual Report, USCIRF recommended that the State Department redesignate Eritrea as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC for engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom. Additionally, USCIRF’s August 2021 Eritrea Country Update noted positive steps the Eritrean government made to ease restrictions on some religious communities as well as to release some religious prisoners of conscience; however, it also highlighted authorities’ continued exertion of complete control over religion and mandatory military service.
SOURCE United States Commission on International Religious Freedom