Abune Dioskoros was named fourth patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, replacing former
head Abune Antonios, government sources said. Church sources said he was selected as the denomination's new leader this week in the presence of government officials and other "reluctant" bishops who “took no part in the decision”.
In a first reaction, UK-based human rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) described the development as "illegal". "Yoftahe Dimetros, a government-appointed lay-person who assumed the role of General Secretary of the Holy Synod in violation of the church’s constitution, reportedly oversaw Dioscoros’ appointment," the group explained in a statement to BosNewsLife.
"Dimetros was instrumental in engineering the unlawful removal of Patriarch Antonios in 2006.
He is also reported to have authorized the seizure of the Patriarch’s robes of office and pontifical insignia in February this year," the well-informed group added. "This is yet another
low in the sad litany of Eritrean government interference in church affairs," added CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas.
Patriarch Antonios is one of approximately 2000 mainly evangelical Christians currently detained without trial or charge in Eritrea, the group and other sources have confirmed.
His detention has been linked to a reported government crackdown on the Orthodox renewal movement which observers say attracts thousands of young people. The government has reportedly also condemned Antonius for refusing to allow state interference in church affairs.
In May 2002, Eritrea closed down all independent religious groups not operating under the umbrella of the government-sanctioned Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran or Muslim faiths. However analysts say renewal movements within these churches have also come under pressure.
The Eritrean government has denied any wrongdoing saying it says it wants to protect the country against dangerous sects. (With BosNewsLife Research and reporting from Eritrea).