Source: Human Rights Concern – Eritrea
17 May 2021
The Eritrean regime announced on 13th May 2021 that “His Reverend Abune Qerlos has been elected as 5th Patriarch of Eritrea’s Orthodox Tewahdo Church in an election conducted today in Asmara… The official consecration of Abune Qerlos will take place on June 13th.”
The announcement justified this event with the information that “Representatives of monasteries, dioceses… and departments of the Holy Synod as well as representatives of Theological Colleges and …representatives of dioceses from abroad participated in the electoral process.” The regime further claimed that the election was “in accordance with the norms and regulations of the Holy Synod and the Eritrean Orthodox Tewadho Church”.
What was not made clear was that the current third Patriarch of Eritrea is still alive, and church statutes do not authorise the election of a new Patriarch while the existing one is alive. The current Patriarch, Abune Antonios has been under house arrest for over 15 years. His detention is illegal, as he has never been charged with any offence or tried for it. His deposition and the substitution of another member of the clergy is also illegal under the Orthodox Church statutes, which do not give the political authorities any legal role in such appointments.
The arrest and deposition of the legitimate patriarch, Abune Antonios, is part of an attempt by the Eritrean regime to control every religious group and to determine externally all decisions of the Orthodox Church. Because Abune Antonios would not prioritise political authority above obedience to God, he became unacceptable to the Eritrean regime, and was in effect deposed from his supreme role as patriarch. On January 20, 2006, authorities notified Patriarch Antonios he would be removed from his position and placed him under house arrest. On January 20, 2007, authorities confiscated Patriarch Antonios’ personal pontifical insignia, and in May that year forcefully removed him from his home and detained him at an undisclosed location. Thus, legally elected Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church has been cut off from communicating with his church by physical imprisonment.
The actions of the Eritrean regime in its attempts to remove the Patriarch was not widely accepted within his church, but protesting against this state interference is highly dangerous for clergy. Indeed, the 2016 Report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea states that at that time “over ten Orthodox Priests were detained” for protesting against the continued detention of Abune Antonios as well as the regime’s plans to appoint a new Patriarch.
Human Rights Concern – Eritrea condemns the decision by the Eritrean regime to replace the legitimate Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church with someone more acceptable to them, who will obey government dictates without question. This has all the marks of state interference in matters reserved to the church. The claim that the new appointee, Abune Querlos, has been elected in accordance with all the norms and regulations of the church is entirely spurious and false, since no election of a new patriarch can occur legally whilst the present one is still alive. This so-called election must not be recognised by other churches or official state pronouncements. It is important that all diplomatic and religious authorities, the United Nations and other international bodies, as well as all human rights organizations, do not give credence to this misleading announcement, or recognition to the new state appointee.
Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE
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