The patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Abune Antonios, died in Asmara on February 9, at the age of 93. The cleric had been under house arrest since 2006, two years after his installation as patriarch, as a result of disagreements with the country’s political authorities.
Patriarch Abune Antonios had criticized in 2006 the government’s policy on the repression of individual freedoms and continued interference in the affairs of the Orthodox Church, and was then placed under house arrest, in solitary confinement, without specific charges. According to some humanitarian organizations Abune Antonios refused to excommunicate members of his church who opposed the Eritrean government, opposing a specific request of the authorities.
After his arrest he was replaced in 2007 as patriarch by Abune Dioskoros, who enjoyed the support of the Eritrean government, but this appointment was highly divisive in the Eritrean Orthodox community, which largely continued to recognize the primacy of Abune Antonios.
The Eritrean Orthodox Church was formed in 1993, after independence from Ethiopia, and today only the Roman Catholic Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church, Sunni Islam, and the Evangelical Church affiliated with the Lutheran Church are legally admitted to Eritrea. Numerous religious leaders of other churches have been arbitrarily arrested, according to aid organizations.
The funeral was held in Asmara on February 10, and despite a ban on attendance, Orthodox Church sources reported a large crowd gathered at the monastery where the high prelate was interred.