Forum18 – On 16 September Macedonia’s Supreme Court acquitted Archbishop Jovan (Vranisskovski) of Ohrid, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Macedonia, of two minor charges, but confirmed another two, thereby upholding the 18 month jail sentence which he began serving on 26 July. “Senior political and religious leaders around the world asked the government to reconsider jailing a bishop for his religious beliefs,” his colleague Bishop Marko (Kimev) of Dremvica and Bitola told Forum 18 News Service on 19 September, “but the Macedonian government is deaf and blind – to its own detriment, I believe.” Among those appealing for Jovan’s release were the heads of the Ecumenical and Russian Orthodox Patriarchates, the Orthodox Churches of Greece and America and the Catholic European Bishop’s Conference, as well as Serbia ‘s prime minister Vojislav Kostunica.
Bishop Marko complains of the isolation Archbishop Jovan has been held in at the Idrizovo prison in Skopje , although he has recently been transferred to a less strict section of the prison. “They do not permit us to visit our shepherd – the police prevented us from visiting him on 28 August, the feast day of the Dormition of the Mother of God, when we wanted to bring him the sacraments. He is allowed no religious service in prison, and no visits are permitted except from his parents.”
Archbishop Jovan – who transferred from the jurisdiction of the Macedonian Orthodox to the Serbian Orthodox Church in 2002 – was sentenced in August 2004 by the court in the southern town of Bitola on charges of inciting national and religious hatred, though he did not begin serving the sentence for nearly a year as appeals dragged on (see F18News 27 July 2005 <http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=618>).
The sentence came at the time of a series of government attacks on Serbian Orthodox places of worship in Macedonia, while the head of the government’s committee for relations with religious communities, Cane Mojanovski, told Forum 18 that the Serbian Orthodox Church in Macedonia “will never get registration” (see F18News 23 September 2004 <http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=418>).
Bishop Marko told Forum 18 that the Supreme Court partially accepted Jovan’s appeal, acquitting him of charges of holding a religious service in his father’s apartment and for being present at the consecration of his two bishops in Serbia in 2003. “But the court confirmed that he is inciting national and religious hatred by accepting to become exarch of the Ohrid Archbishopric, and for having church calendars (small booklets with holy dates, prayers and saints’ pictures) at his church services when he was arrested.”
Because the Supreme Court did not acquit Archbishop Jovan of all charges, his punishment is “within the framework of the punishment foreseen by the law”, the Court statement said. Jovan’s lawyer, Vasko Georgiev, told the press on 16 September that the possibility remains to petition the Supreme Court for an extraordinary sentence reduction. He said Jovan’s case will go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg after all the domestic legal remedies are exhausted.
Bishop Marko declined to say if Archbishop Jovan will appeal for a pardon. “Whether to ask for a pardon is a decision for the Archbishop himself, but we will go to Strasbourg for sure. The Macedonian state is doing everything to make him stay in prison as long as possible. They are discriminating against him, that is obvious, and also against all of us in Macedonia , their own citizens. The government is frightening people – the burden of fear is too heavy.” [Go To Full Story]