Orthodox patriarch of Eritrea sacked
- Orthodox patriarch of Eritrea sacked
Wednesday 1 February 2006 03:21.
Jan 31, 2006 (ASMARA) The Orthdox Church in Eritrea has sacked the
country's patriarch, a senior government official said Tuesday,
dismissing charges 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
"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 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 criticising the government is not
something that makes you removed from your post," he said. "We
believe in criticism, even some people within the government
criticise 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 worshippers.
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
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 it was close to approving the Seventh
Day Adventist church.