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(BosNewsLife) – Serbia has urged Macedonia to release Serbian Orthodox Archbishop Jovan Vraniskovski who began serving an 18-months prison sentence last week for refusing to accept the authority of the government-backed Macedonian Orthodox Church, a news agency reported Friday, July 29.

Makfax, an independent Macedonian news agency, said Serbia-Montenegro Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic made the demand in a recent phone conversation with Macedonia ‘s Chief of Diplomacy Ilinka Mitreva. He reportedly said that Macedonia ‘s refusal to release the 39-year old Vraniskovski overshadowed diplomatic relations. In addition the Serbian Foreign Ministry reportedly expressed regrets for the “Macedonian authorities’ failure to refuse to be held hostage by ecclesiastical disputes.”

Serbia ‘s concern is shared by Western diplomats and human rights activists. Some have complained that the bishop was jailed without access to Christian literature. “The archbishop was not permitted to take his prayer book, the Gospels, an icon or any of the insignia of his rank with him,” said Jovan’s colleague, Bishop Marko of Dremvica and Bitola , in an interview with the religious Forum 18 News Service (F18News). Vraniskovski, who was previously sentenced to five days solitary confinement for baptizing his sister’s grandchild, was sentenced last month by the appeal court in his home town Bitola following a long legal battle.

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