Date:  February 16, 2022

Eritrea (International Christian Concern) – Abune Antonios, the head of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, died on February 9 at the age of 94 after spending the last sixteen years of his life under arrest for his faith. The Eritrean government attempts to exert complete control over religion and Eritrea is considered one of the hardest places in the world to be a Christian.

Patriarch Antonios was detained in 2006 after he protested the arrest of priests and refused government requests to excommunicate thousands of church members. His bravery in the face of intense government pressure led to his years in captivity and prompted a groundswell of support around the world.

Eritrean authorities moved Patriarch Antonios several times over the years, holding him at a number of undisclosed locations and refusing him the right to communicate with his family or other church officials. Once, in 2017, the authorities allowed him to make an appearance in Asmara but they prevented him from making any public statements and did not allow congregants to speak with him.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) advocated for Patriarch Antonios’ release for years, raising awareness of his situation and calling on the Eritrean government to treat him in accordance with international human rights law. Commissioner James Carr took special interest in his case, adopting him under USCIRF’s Prisoners of Conscience program.

Carr mourned the Patriarch’s passing earlier this week and called for the Eritrean government to be held accountable for their mistreatment of the religious leader. “Eritrean authorities must be held accountable for the mistreatment of religious prisoners of conscience in their custody,” Carr said. “Detention until death on the basis of one’s religious beliefs or activity is absolutely unacceptable. The Eritrean government should be better than this.”

Unfortunately, the Eritrean government is well established in its disregard for religious freedom. Though it occasionally releases prisoners of conscience, it is known to keep a large number of Christians and other religious minorities in abysmal conditions. Survivors of Eritrea’s several prison camps report the worst abuse imaginable, including severe torture and grossly inhumane living quarters.

Eritrea was designated as a Country of Particular Concern for particularly severe violations of religious freedom by the U.S. Department of State in a November 2021 announcement.

HOW TO PRAY: Pray for peace for Abune Antonios’ loved ones. Praise God for his faithful endurance until the end. Pray for greater freedom for underground believers in Eritrea.