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Eritrean asylum seekers rescued and detained by Libyan authorities as church patriarch forcibly evicted from official residence

ICC Note:

Eritrean government is intensifying its interference in country’s religious institution. As this story indicates the government of Eritrea evicted the legitimate Patriarch of Eritrean Orthodox Church from his official residence.

Eritrea (Journal Chretien) — Fifty-three Eritrean asylum seekers who were feared drowned in the Mediterranean Sea have been rescued and incarcerated by the Libyan authorities, according to the relative of one asylum seeker.

« The asylum seekers were reportedly first sighted by Maltese armed forces, but fell into Libyan hands when the Maltese rescue vessels only reached the area following a nine-hour delay, » the report says.

CSW states that in an indication of the Eritrean government’s increasingly oppressive tactics, the legitimate patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church (EOC), Abune Antonios, was forcibly removed from his residence in the early hours of Sunday May 27, and transported to an undisclosed location, according to sources in Asmara, the capital city of Eritrea.

According to a report from anonymous EOC sources on the Eritrean website www.Asmarino.com, Patriarch Antonios was forcibly evicted from his official residence by members of the Eritrean security forces at 5 am local time, and was taken to an unknown destination. The Patriarch suffers from severe diabetes and fears have been expressed for his continued wellbeing.

CW said Patriarch Antonios was illegally removed from office in January 2006 and placed under stringent house arrest after increasingly resisting unwarranted government intervention in church affairs. As a result of government pressure, the Bishop of Mendefera, Abune Dioscoros, was consecrated as patriarch this weekend in violation of the church’s constitution. It is thought that Patriarch Antonios was evicted to enable Dioscoros to make use of the official residence.

The anonymous sources concluded by expressing outrage and embarrassment that Dioscoros’ unlawful installation took place during celebrations of the Day of Pentecost, and lamenting the moral decline of the nation. In addition most residents of Asmara are reported to be deeply saddened by the Patriarch’s forcible eviction.

CSW Advocacy Director Tina Lambert said : « The clandestine actions of the Eritrean Government to take control of the Orthodox Church cannot be allowed to go unchallenged. »Over the last few months they have stripped the legitimate Patriarch of every possession related to his post, and this latest incident is just another example.

« We urge the international community to express its concern for the wellbeing of Patriarch Antonios and not to recognize the unlawful government appointment of a new Patriarch. In addition, the Maltese authorities must investigate the failure to rescue the Eritrean refugees and the international authorities, including the UNHCR, must do everything within their power to prevent these refugees from being sent back to Eritrea, where they are likely to be imprisoned, tortured and may even be killed. »

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