30 December 2022, The Tablet

Eritrean bishop freed from detention

by CNS

Bishop of Segheneity, Fikremariam Hagos Tsalim, had been arrested at Asmara International Airport on 15 October.

Eritrean bishop freed from detention

Bishop Fikremariam Hagos Tsalim and Father Mihreteab Stefanos were filmed meeting priests and women religious in the Catholic cathedral in the capital, Asmara.
Image Broker/Alamy

The Eritrean authorities have freed a Catholic bishop after 75 days in prison.

Bishop Fikremariam Hagos Tsalim, the 52-year-old Bishop of Segheneity, an eparchy in the southern part of Eritrea, had spent Christmas in prison.

A video emerged on 28 December showing the prelate being greeted by priests and women religious in the cathedral in Asmara, the Eritrean capital.

Archbishop Menghesteab Tesfamariam of Asmara was present at the meeting.

Authorities also released Father Mihreteab Stefanos, a priest from the eparchy who had been detained with the bishop in the Adi Abeto prison, according to reports.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Ethiopia and Eritrea offered no immediate comment on the release. However, Catholic clergy sources, citing posts on Twitter, confirmed that Father Tsalim was free.

Earlier reports indicated that the Vatican had accelerated diplomatic efforts to gain his release.

“I can confirm he is free, but I do not have any further details. My other concern is that we are dealing with a very toxic state,” said a Catholic priest from the neighbouring Ethiopian region of Tigray.  He asked to remain unidentified because of safety concerns.

On Twitter, a post by Araya Yodit was accompanied by a photo showing the bishop meeting women religious.

“Bishop Fikremariam Hagos is free. Both the bishop and Father Mihreteab are free,” the post said.

Security agents arrested Bishop Tsalim on 15 October at Asmara International Airport as he returned from a trip to Europe.

Catholics in Eritrea comprise less than 5% of the population of 6 million people.

The bishop’s detention led governments worldwide to call for his release.

On 9 February, the 94-year-old Patriarch Abune Antonios of the Eritrean Orthodox Church died while in detention. He had been held for 16 years after resisting orders to excommunicate thousands of church members.

Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, who has been in office since 1993, shut down most Christian churches two decades ago. Today only Catholic, Orthodox and Lutheran churches and Sunni Muslim mosques have the legal authority to operate, but they face many restrictions.

Although the government had not given reasons for the arrests, observers said they believe Bishop Tsalim was detained for criticizing forced youth recruitment for the war in the neighbouring Tigray region of Ethiopia.

The war has since ended with the negotiation of a peace agreement. The bishop had also reportedly questioned the government’s seizure of church-owned schools and clinics.

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