New Eritrean Patriarch Elected as Predecessor Remains Under Arrest

05/18/2021 Eritrea (International Christian Concern) – The government of Eritrea announced last week that Reverend Abune Qerlos has been elected as the fifth Patriarch over the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church. The official Eritrean announcement claimed that the election was conducted “in accordance with the norms and regulations of the Holy Synod and the Church.”

Rights groups were quick to point out that the Orthodox Tewahdo Church does not allow the election of a new Patriarch while a sitting Patriarch is still alive. Abune Antonios, the third Patriarch, has lived under strict house arrest since 2007 and is reportedly being denied medical care for his severe diabetes. He is being held incommunicado in an undisclosed location and has only been seen publicly on one occasion since his arrest.

Eritrea aggressively suppresses the free practice of religion and has garnered a well-earned reputation for being among the worst persecutors in the world. Prisoners of conscience often languish in Eritrean prison for years before their cases are even heard, suffering unimaginably inhumane living conditions and regular incidents of torture for their faith.

The country came under increased scrutiny in recent months as reports were verified that Eritrean troops are participating in what has been termed an ethnic genocide in neighboring Ethiopia’s Tigray region. The head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church recently spoke publicly on the conflict, denouncing the actions of the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments and calling the international community to act on the matter.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued a report in April of this year, recommending once again that the Department of State designate Eritrea a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for its severe violations of religious freedom. USCIRF made the same recommendation in last year’s report.

The Department of State announced the CPC designation for Eritrea in a December 2020 statement that condemned Eritrea for its “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.” Burma, China, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan were also designated as CPCs in that announcement.

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