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Forum18 – In the wake of the additional two year sentence on Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid, head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Macedonia, handed down on 23 September and a further trial begun today (29 September), as well as summonses to eleven participants in a Serbian Orthodox service held in a private flat, Macedonian government officials have refused to explain to Forum 18 News Service why the Serbian Orthodox Church in Macedonia has been denied registration, why its communities have been attacked and why Macedonian citizens cannot belong to the faith of their choice. Goran Pavlovski, spokesperson for the cabinet of ministers, refused to explain why his government is so hostile to Macedonian parishes of the Serbian Orthodox Church. He insisted that the Church is not recognised in Macedonia , but refused to respond when Forum 18 observed that this was because the government has repeatedly rejected its registration applications. He repeatedly and pointedly declined to say whether Macedonian citizens are allowed to belong to the Serbian Orthodox Church or not.

On the case of Archbishop Jovan, whom he referred to by his secular name Zoran Vranisskovski, Pavlovski insisted that he has merely been punished for his crimes. “You think you know very much about this case, but you know very little,” he told Forum 18 from the capital Skopje on 29 September. “Mr Vranisskovski committed a crime with money and that’s why he’s in jail.” He declined to say what information he believes Forum 18 is unaware of.

Borce Pesesvski, spokesperson for the interior ministry, also maintained that “Mr Vranisskovski” has been punished for fraud he committed when he was a bishop of the Macedonian Orthodox Church and referred all enquiries to the Justice Ministry. He declined to discuss why his ministry has played a part in suppressing the Serbian Orthodox Church in Macedonia , including by attacking and demolishing places of worship.

Likewise Tomislav Dopuzovski of the government’s Committee for Relations with Religious Communities refused to explain the official determination to crush the Church’s activity. “We do not have the Serbian Orthodox Church here,” he told Forum 18 from Skopje on 29 September. Told that the Serbian Orthodox Church in Macedonia had applied to his committee for registration and been refused, he declined all further discussion.

The prosecution of Archbishop Jovan at the court in the town of Veles south east of Skopje came on the prosecutors’ third attempt after two earlier attempts failed. On 23 September the court found him guilty of embezzling 57,180 Euros (448,541 Norwegian kroner or 68,725 US dollars) donated for church reconstruction when he was a bishop of the Macedonian Orthodox Church. In the same case, his former clerk Toni Petrusevski was also found guilty and sentenced to fifteen months in prison.

Archbishop Jovan’s two year sentence will be in addition to the sentences he has already received (see F18News 20 September 2005 <http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=655>). As he is already serving a combined sentence of two and a half years from two earlier trials, this new sentence will now require him to stay in Idrizovo prison in Skopje for a total of four and a half years.

The Serbian Church in Macedonia has dismissed the case as a “set-up”. It pointed out on 24 September that the two defendants were sentenced for holding the money for two days between the time it was withdrawn from a private account to the moment it was deposited with the court in Veles in November 2002. At the time the money was in a private account, no religious organisation was permitted to hold a bank account with foreign currency. The Church has called its followers in Macedonia to one week of fasting, from 26 September to 2 October, in response to Archbishop Jovan’s third sentence in a row.

“What was shocking at this trial,” abbot David (Ninov) of the Monastery of the Dormition of the Mother of God told Forum 18 from Skopje on 29 September, “was that the same court which acquitted our bishop twice, and the same judge who judged the second of these trials – without any new evidence and merely at the request of the Appeal court to repeat the trial, and this for the third time – now finds Jovan guilty, sentencing him to two years in jail as a criminal. We, who seek only a democratic trial, honouring the facts and respecting human and religious rights, find this incomprehensible.” He claimed Archbishop Jovan’s human, constitutional and internationally-guaranteed rights have been violated…[Go To Full Story]