Orthodox patriarch of Eritrea sacked
- Orthodox patriarch of Eritrea sacked
February 1, 2006
Middle East Times Thu, 09 Feb 2006 8:05 AM PST
ASMARA -- The Orthodox Church in Eritrea has sacked the country's
patriarch, a senior government official said on Tuesday, dismissing
charges that the move was made under pressure from authorities.
Patriarch Abune Antonios was removed from his post by the Synod of
the Orthodox Church earlier this month, Eritrean information minister
Ali Abdu said in the first official confirmation of the sacking.
"The synod informed the government that it had decided to remove the
patriarch from his position during a meeting this month," he said,
declining to discuss specifics of the move.
"They found he should not continue," Ali Abdu said. "Why? I cannot
talk on their behalf, it was an internal meeting. Eritrea is secular,
the government has nothing to do with that decision."
Officials at the church headquarters in Asmara confirmed that Abune
was no longer the patriarch and said that a successor had not yet
been chosen but declined to comment further on the matter.
An Eritrean opposition Website reported this month that Abune, who
had been the Orthodox patriarch since March 2004, had been fired for
being too critical of the government and complaining about
interference in church activities.
In August 2005 the same Website said that Abune had angered the
government and been relieved of many of his duties in the church and
was no longer involved in its day-to-day administration.
Ali Abdu rejected allegations of a government role in Abune's
"Eritrea is secular and anyway criticizing the government is not
something that makes you removed from your post," he said. "We
believe in criticism, even some people within the government
criticize the government."
Human rights groups and the United States regularly accuse the
Eritrean authorities of religious persecution, particularly against
unregistered evangelical Christian congregations.
In 2004 the US States Department classified Eritrea as a "country of
particular concern" for "particularly severe violations of religious
freedom" including the arrests of hundreds of worshipers.
Asmara routinely denounces such reports as "fabrications".
Eritrea's 3.5 million population is equally divided among Muslims and
Christians and the government officially recognizes four religious
denominations: Islam, Orthodox, Catholic and the Eritrean Evangelical
Under a decree issued in May 2002, other groups are permitted to
worship but must first register with the authorities in Asmara and
last year the government said that it was close to approving the
Seventh Day Adventist church.