(English) Political prisoner : first public appearance of Patriarch Abune Antonios

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According to Arbi Harnet, a group of clandestine activists in Eritrea, his Holiness Abune Antonios, Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church attended a religious celebration on Sunday, July 16, 2017. It had been more than eleven years since the Patriarch had been dismissed by the Authorities and held under house arrest in a secret location, without any contact with the outside world and without access to medical treatment despite suffering from severe diabetes.

His Holiness Abune Antonios attended a mass celebration in the Church of Santa Maria in Asmara. During the service, a deacon made an announcement evoking the purpose of the event: the reconciliation of the committee within the church. The speech also indicated that the Patriarch was unwell and that he could not address to the congregation. The speech then highlighted the reason for his incarceration, namely “his heretical teachings and the surpassing of his authority as a patriarch”.

At the end of this celebration, the priests had to insist on several occasions for the people to leave the church, especially the mothers who did not wish to return home. Several people within the church reported the presence of intelligence officers in plain clothes. The latter prevented people from taking pictures or videos. The members of Arbi Harnet were able to record this audio file (in Tigrinya).

IFE sees this as a positive start. Nevertheless, no information was communicated as to the terms of the Patriarch’s release. After a long decade of isolation, his mental and physical health remains a serious source of concern.

This same concern is extended to thousands of political prisoners, conscientious objectors and other innocent civilians who are languishing in prison for years sometimes without knowing the reason for their imprisonment. It should be recalled that the overwhelming majority of prisoners have never had the right to appear before a court or even to have access to a lawyer. Also, their families are rarely informed of the place of their detention or even of their health conditions.

The insistance for the respect of human rights of Switzerland, France, the European Union, other member states and the United Nations are thus highly important in the Eritrean political context, otherwise this event would probably not have been possible. It is therefore essential that particular attention be paid to the country, violations of the fundamental freedoms of its civilian population and the condition of thousands of prisoners.

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2004 : Patriarch Antonios criticizes the Eritrean government’s increasing and unconstitutional interference in religious affairs. He refused to remove 3 priests from their positions and also rejected the excommunication of 3,000 parishioners who opposed the government.

August 2005 : Removal by the Eritrean authorities of his Holiness Abune Antonio as the head of the country’s largest religious group, replacing him with Bishop Dioscoros.

January 2007 : Confiscation by the Eritrean authorities of the personal pontifical insignia of Patriarch Antonios.

May 2007 : Withdrawal of his residence and incommunicado detention of the Patriarch.

July 12, 2017 : 90th Anniversary of His Holiness Antonios.

July 16, 2017 : First public appearance since 2007.