19 October 2022, The Tablet

Bishop detained by Eritrean authorities

by CNS

Bishop Fikremariam Hagos Tsalim of Segheneity has been outspoken against the government's war in Tigray.

Bishop detained by Eritrean authorities

Soldiers in Tigray in November last year. Eritrea's Catholic bishops have been vocal in their opposition to the war in the region.
Erberto Zani/Alamy

Eritrean authorities are detaining the Catholic Bishop Fikremariam Hagos Tsalim of Segheneity, who was arrested at Asmara International Airport on 15 October.

After the Catholic Church queried about the situation and his whereabouts, government authorities confirmed the bishop, who turns 52 on 23 October, is in their custody.

Bishop Tsalim was picked up soon after returning from a trip to Europe, but as of 18 October government authorities had not given any reasons for his detention.

Fides, news agency of the Pontifical Mission Societies, said Bishop Tsalim and two other priests were being held at Adi Abeto prison.

“We have received this ominous news [of the arrest] with immense pain and bewilderment at what is happening in our country,” Father Mussie Zerai, a Catholic priest of Eritrean origin who works with migrants, told Catholic News Service. “Our hope [is] that all priests and the bishop currently in custody will be released as soon as possible.”

On 11 October, security agents arrested Father Mihratab Stefanos, the priest in charge of St Michael’s Catholic Church in the diocese of Segheneity. Another Catholic priest, identified as Capuchin Abbot Abraham, was detained in the western town of Teseney.

The arrests come at a time when Eritrea continues forcefully to conscript youth into the military for the war in the neighbouring Ethiopian province of Tigray. In September, soldiers rounded up boys and girls in the parish of Medhanie Alem in the village of Akrur, part of the diocese.

Bishop Tsalim has been serving the diocese since 2012, when he was ordained its first bishop.

“We ask for the solidarity of all African bishops and the whole Catholic Church in Africa, who pray for their liberation and for peace throughout the Horn of Africa region,” said Father Zerai.

“The people of this region are exhausted by war and famine and the absence of lasting peace.”

According to a Catholic Church source from Adigrat who could not be named for safety reasons, Bishop Tsalim has been outspoken against the war in Tigray.

“I think he is being persecuted for his opposition to the war. He is one of those clerics in Eritrea who have not been silent about the atrocities committed by the forces in Adigrat. He recently told the people not to purchase the ‘loot’ from Tigray,” said the source. “My fear is that more Catholic clerics in both countries will be targeted.”

Only four per cent of Eritrea’s six million population is Catholic. Although the Church is one of the four religious groups allowed in the country, the government has recently confiscated its schools, educational and health institutions.

Under the leadership of President Isaias Afwerki, for 30 years the country has not developed a functional constitution nor has it held national elections.

It is against this background that the country’s Catholic bishops recently called for democratic rule and an end to the dictatorship.

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