A former head of Eritrea’s Orthodox Church, who had been under house arrest for 16 years, has died, church officials have told the BBC.
Abune Antonio, who had long been a critic of the Eritrean government, was deposed as patriarch in 2006.
News of the 94-year-old’s death on Wednesday was announced by the North America diocese of the church, which had been supporting him.
He ran into trouble in 2006 when he reportedly refused a government request to excommunicate 3,000 members of a Sunday school movement – he had also spoken out about the arrest of priests.
Analysts believe he was deposed so the government could have full control of the Eritrean Orthodox Church.
Thirteen years into his house arrest, a group of Eritrean top bishops accused him of “heresy” and expelled him from the church.
Though the church continued to hold him on their premises, saying it was doing so out of charity.
His supporters, led by the US-based Coptic Bishop Abune Makarios, accuse the government of interfering in church affairs – which it denies.
The former patriarch is seen by many Eritreans, both Christian and Muslim, in the diaspora as a symbol of resistance against the government’s alleged role in religious and human rights violations.
Many are sharing their tributes on social media.
There has been no official report in Eritrea about the former patriarch’s death.