22.06.2020
Human Rights Without Frontiers

UK’s advocacy about Patriarch Antonios of the Eritrean Orthodox Church

On 3 June Lord Hylton filed a written question (Ref. HL5197) about the situation of Patriarch Antonios of the Eritrean Orthodox Church. On 15 June, Baroness Sugg answered in the name of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office:

We remain concerned about the human rights situation in Eritrea, including the arrests of religious figures such as Patriarch Abune Antonios who has been detained for over 12 years. On 25 July 2019, we issued a tweet specifically calling attention to his apparent excommunication and his ongoing detention. We also raised his case in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s 2018 Annual Human Rights Report. There has been no response from the Government of Eritrea.

The UK Government, along with partners in the international community, have taken every opportunity to voice our concern about arbitrary arrests and detentions in Eritrea, and have called for their release. On 26 February, the UK’s International Ambassador for Human Rights, Rita French, delivered a statement during the 43rd Session of the Human Rights Council expressing concern at continuing human rights abuses. Although welcoming Eritrean acceptance of Universal Periodic Review recommendations and offering UK assistance in support of their implementation, she said that the UK would continue to press for the release of arbitrarily detained individuals, and call for respect for freedom of religion or belief, especially for worshippers of unregistered religions.

Our Ambassador in Asmara raised arbitrary detentions of members of the Christian community with the Eritrean Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 20 May 2019 and with the President’s senior adviser on 14 August 2019. During visits to Eritrea, the FCO’s Head of East Africa Department, in November 2019, and the Home Office International Director, in February, both raised human rights issues with senior members of the Eritrean government. Eritrea remains a priority country for the FCO under our annual human rights reporting, and we will continue to monitor the situation there.

Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church under house arrest since 2007

In 2007, two priests accompanied by government security agents entered the Patriarch’s residence and confiscated his personal pontifical insignia. Abune Antonios, who was born in 1929 and suffers from health problems, was then arrested for resisting government interference in religious affairs. Since then, he has been under house arrest and strict state surveillance. Formal charges have never been brought against him.[1]

Since 2007, Abune Antonios has been considered by the United States to be a religious prisoner of conscience.[2]


Footnotes

[1] “Abune Antonios,” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, December 12, 2019, accessed May 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abune_Antonios.
[2] “Patriarch Abune Antonios,” United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, June 5, 2020. https://www.uscirf.gov/patriarch-abune-antonios.

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