THE continued house arrest of the Eritrean Orthodox Patriarch, Abune Antonios, for the past ten years was raised in the House of Commons this month during a debate on the part played by British embassies in tackling the persecution of Christians.
The detention of the Patriarch, who is 89, comes at a time when Eritrean authorities are continuing to clamp down on the Eritrean Orthodox Church.
Jim Shannon, of the DUP, told MPs that 122 Eritrean Christians were detained in May. “Many of those detained have been subject to torture by being kept in metal shipping containers, without water, and flogged,” he said.
“In May, all members of the Kale Hiwot Church in Adi Quala were detained, including 12 children. Children are seen as a threat by some governments. . . They are young enough to understand the powerful words of the Bible, but, at the same time, governments see them as a threat.”
The debate was held in Westminster Hall, which provides backbench MPs with an opportunity to raise issues of concern.
Mr Shannon, who moved the debate, highlighted other examples. “The situation in Syria is characterised by heavy persecution of all types of Christians in areas held by ISIS and other Islamic militants,” he said. “In those areas, Christians are often given the ultimatum: convert to Islam or die.”
Dame Caroline Spelman MP, the Second Church Estate Commissioner, said that she was “delighted” that the Foreign Office had reissued a “toolkit” to embassies with guidelines about the priority of freedom of religion. “We want to be absolutely sure, however, that that book of guidelines does not sit on the shelf gathering dust.”
Dame Caroline also raised the case of Taimoor Raza, who was sentenced to death last month by a Pakistan court for blasphemy on Facebook. She said that the Church of England would be “paying close attention to that case”.