(London June 3 2010) 65 demonstrators from across the United Kingdom held a vigil outside the Eritrean embassy in London, in protest to the religious persecution of thousands of Eritrean Christian prisoners of faith and victims of religious persecution. The annual vigil which marked the 8th year of the closure of minority churches in Eritrea was organised and attended by members and supporters of six human and religious rights groups who have relentlessly advocated on behalf of Eritrean victims of religious persecution, including the persecution against Eritrea’s largest church, the Eritrean Orthodox Church. Whilst not actually shut or officially outlawed, together with the minority churches, the Eritrean Orthodox Church, has suffered just as much persecution, with severe clamp down on its independence including the deposition and house arrest of its Patriarch five years ago.
Abune Antonios the elderly head of the Eritrean Orthodox Church has been under house arrest with his whereabouts or conditions undisclosed and the government has refused access to him despite high profile campaign from across the globe.
Each of the organisations delivered a short presentation followed by the offering of prayers and hymns regarding; prisoners, refugees, underground church leaders and the government itself. At the conclusion of the vigil a delegation of three clergy from different denominations presented their letter of protest to the Eritrean Embassy, who for the first time in eight years allowed a delegation from the protestors into the embassy building to deliver their letter. However it was unclear if this was an accidental invitation, as once the delegation was inside the building; the ambassador was heard shouting ‘who let them in?’ from the top floor of the building, in response to the priests’ request to see the ambassador. The three priests were: Abba Seraphim of the Orthodox Church in Britain, Reverend Christopher Chessun the Anglican Bishop of Woolwich and Reverend Dr Berhane Asmelash Director of Release Eritrea.
Addressing protestors at the close of the Vigil Metropolitan Seraphim told the crowd how he met Abune Antonios during the two priests’ ordination at Alexandria 16 years ago in June 1994. Abba Seraphim offered supplication on behalf of his friend and colleague Abune Antonios, the Orthodox Church of Eritrea and the wider Eritrean Christian community.
Partaking in the vigil were Eritreans from both faiths and several denominations of Christianity.
It is to be remembered that the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued its latest report on Eritrea last month. The Commission's latest recommendations to the US State Department, the President and Congress was the strongest since the commission’s designation of the country as a serious violator of religious rights in 2003. In addition to economic sanctions against the Eritrean government, the report made recommendations for targeted sanctions, such as asset freezes and travel bans, against individuals and institutions identified as responsible for, or complicit in, serious human rights abuses, including, as appropriate, the President, the government-appointed administrator of the Orthodox Church of Eritrea, the security forces and their officers, and the ruling party and ruling party officials.
Release Eritrea thanks all organisers and participants of the vigil on behalf of the persecuted church of Eritrea and the thousands of victims of religious persecution in the country.