USCIRF Calls for Release of Eritrean Orthodox Patriarch Abune Antonios

Jan 20, 2015


January 20, 2015 | USCIRF

WASHINGTON, D.C. – This January marks the eighth anniversary of the illegal removal of Eritrean Orthodox Patriarch Abune Antonios from his position as head of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the country’s largest religious community. 

“The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) vehemently condemns the illegal removal from office and continued house arrest of Patriarch Antonios.  The Patriarch also suffers from severe diabetes and deteriorating health and has been denied medical assistance. We call on the Eritrean government immediately to release Patriarch Antonios and the more than 2,000 people imprisoned for their religious beliefs. Religious freedom is a fundamental, universal human right. Unfortunately, this anniversary reminds us that these rights, as well as other human rights, have been denied to the people of Eritrea for more than two decades,” said USCIRF Chair Lantos Swett. 

Eritrean authorities on January 13, 2006 removed Patriarch Antonios from his church position for his refusal to comply with government orders to excommunicate 3,000 parishioners who had opposed the government and for his call to release political prisoners.  One year later, on January 20, 2007, authorities confiscated Patriarch Antonios’ personal pontifical insignia.  On May 27, 2007, the government illegally replaced Patriarch Antonios with Bishop Dioscoros of Mendefera, and then forcibly removed him from his home and placed him under house arrest at another residence. 

President Isaias Afweki has ruled Eritrea since 1993 and his regime is among the most repressive in the world.  Religious prisoners are subject to torture and beatings and are pressured to renounce their faith.  Released religious prisoners report having been confined in 20-foot metal shipping containers or underground barracks and having endured extreme temperature fluctuations.  Since 2002, the Eritrean government has registered only four religious communities, the (Coptic) Orthodox Church of Eritrea, Sunni Islam, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Evangelical Church of Eritrea, and maintains tight controls over their internal operations and activities.  No other religious group has been approved and without such approval no group legally can hold public religious activities. 

USCIRF since 2004 has recommended, and the State Department has designated, Eritrea as a “country of particular concerns” (CPC), for its “systematic, ongoing and egregious” violations of religious freedom.

For more information about USCIRF’s work on Eritrea, please view the 2014 Annual Report here.

To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at or 202-786-0613.