Eritrea Installs Controversial New Orthodox Patriarch

The fourth patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewhado Church was installed this weekend while the former patriarch reportedly remains under house arrest.

His Holiness Abune Dioskoros received the key to the Holy Shrine and was sworn in during his investiture ceremony and anointment at St Mary Church in Eritrea's capital city Asmara on Sunday, according to Eritrea's Ministry of Information. Dioskoros was appointed as the new Eritrean Orthodox head on 19 April and was reportedly approved by the Holy Synod unanimously.

Sunday's ceremony was attended by archbishops, religious leaders, senior government officials, diplomats and Church members.

Opponents, however, have accused the Eritrean Government of propping up the Dioskoros after removing the former patriarch from office for unknown reasons.

In January 2006, former Patriarch Abune Antonios, 79, was illegally dismissed from his position after criticising the Eritrean Government for interfering in church activities and for persecuting evangelical churches, according to the human rights group Amnesty International.

"In addition to the appalling mistreatment of the legitimate pontiff, who continues to be held without charge or trial, the Eritrean authorities appear determined to usurp the authority to appoint a leader for a church with a 17-century history," remarked Mervyn Thomas, chief executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, in response to the appointment of the new patriarch in April.

Eritrea's harassment of Christians and other religious minorities is well-known in the international community. The US Department of State has for three years running designated Eritrea as a "Country of Particular Concern" - the worst religious freedom violation label.

Newer Christian groups such as Protestant evangelicals and Pentecostals are particularly targeted by the Eritrean Government, but some reports indicate that officials have recently cracked down on Orthodox churches which formerly had an amicable relationship with the Government.

It is estimated that some 2,000 Christians are currently detained without trial or charge in Eritrea.