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ICC NOTE: The Holy Synod is the governing body of the Orthodox Church in Eritrea . The situation is very much like the Three-Self Church in China , where the national government dictates the activities of the body. Historically the Orthodox Church has been relatively immune to the government but things seem to be changing as Eritrea increases persecution on Christian leaders and churches.

Eritrea Orthodox Patriarch Faces Arrest After Dismissal

Wednesday, 18 January 2006

Patriarch Abune Antonios facing persecution, church sources say ASMARA, ERITREA (BosNewsLife)– Patriarch Abune Antonios of the Eritrean Orthodox Church faced possible arrest Wednesday, January 18, after his denomination’s, government-controlled, Holy Synod fired him as the leader of one the African nation’s largest churches, news reports said.

Antonios, who has been under virtual house arrest since August, 2005, rejected the notice he received last week, saying he was “excommunicating or suspending those who signed his arbitrary dismissal order,” Christian news agency Compass Direct reported, citing sources in the region.

Church representatives reportedly fear that if the patriarch continues to challenge the government-orchestrated takeover of his church, he will be arrested soon. There was no immediate reaction from authorities.

Compass direct said it had monitored a Tigrinya language message on the website of the Asmarino Independent News, which claimed that the synod notified Patriarch Antonios of his official discharge after “a series of hidden and closed-door meetings” held last week.

The secret sessions reportedly involved three Eritrean bishops and Yoftahe Dimetros, a layman installed by the government last August as chief administrator of the church. The three clerics were identified as Bishop Lukas, Bishop Petros and Bishop Marcos, all members of the church’s synod.

SUPPORTERS “SHOCKED”

“Shocked” that the elderly, robed cleric was not being driven to church as usual, several passersby stopped their cars to offer him a lift. The 78-year-old patriarch was quickly surrounded by a crowd of Orthodox faithful who escorted him to and from his residence for morning worship, Compass Direct said.

Antonios was installed by Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenoudah III as the third patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church in March 2004. The tensions come amid international concern over reports of widespread detentions of Christians in the country.

In one of the latest other reported incidents this year, a Protestant Teacher of the Church of the Living God in Asmara was arrested from his place of work on January 11. A university graduate teaching at the Mai-Nefhee Training Center in Asmara , Hanibal Tekeste is married with two children, Compass Direct said.

Tekeste is the fourth member of the charismatic church arrested within the past month. One of the church’s pastors detained just before Christmas later escaped from the security authorities and is now believed to have fled the country.

EVANGELICAL BELIEVERS

Since last month, 150 evangelical believers, including dozens of pastors, elders and leading laymen have been arrested and detained from their homes or offices.

The Christian leaders from five of Eritrea ’s banned Protestant churches were taken into custody in the past two weeks in the capital Asmara , human rights workers said. The problems reportedly began December 22 when security police were tracking down leaders of the Church of the Living God, along with clergymen and elders in the Full Gospel, Rema, Hallelujah and Philadelphia churches.

Eritrea ‘s government has denied human rights abuses saying that no groups or persons are persecuted in Eritrea for their beliefs or religion and that people were free to worship according to their wish. President Isaias Afworki has been quoted as saying that several religious groups have been “duped by foreigners” who sought to “distract from the unity of the Eritrean people and distort the true meaning of religion.”

In 2002 the Eritrean government ordered the closure of all churches not belonging to the Orthodox, Roman Catholic or Evangelical Lutheran denominations. Recent developments, including the dismissal of Orthodox Patriarch Antonios indicate that these traditional churches have become targets for government pressure as well, analysts say.