TANJUG – 11/7/13
BELGRADE — The Conference of European Churches (CEC) has called on the Macedonian government and PM Nikola Gruevski to ensure a fair trial for Archbishop Jovan of Ohrid.
They were also urged to release him from custody pending his trial, in line with the country’s criminal law provisions.
The appeal was issued at the end of the CEC General Assembly, held in Budapest on July 3-8, according to the website of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC).
The CEC Assembly backed the World Council of Churches’ call on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief to carefully investigate this case.
The CEC Assembly calls on the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe (CoE) and the EU Special Representative on Human Rights to urgently look into this case, the SPC website said.
In particular, the CEC Assembly demands that the institutions see whether the detention conditions are in line with standards set out by the CoE, it added.
In the appeal announcement, the CEC Assembly said that it “has learned with great concern about the arrest and detention of Archbishop Jovan in Macedonia. It is believed that his detention is a result of him exercising his human right of religious freedom.”
The announcement goes on to say that “reaffirming that freedom of religion and belief is a fundamental right guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human rights and the European Convention on Human Rights to which R. Macedonia is a party.”
Archbishop Jovan Vraniskovski has been in an investigative prison in Skopje since January last year, and is awaiting a retrial.
Since 2003, Macedonian authorities have arrested Bishop Jovan Vraniskovski six times, on different charges, including public disorder when he tried to conduct a baptism ceremony in a church the Macedonian Orthodox Church (MPC) sees as its own.
He has also been charged with “inciting ethnic and religious hatred” for having “slandered the MPC” and for alleged embezzlement of church money.
He spent a total of almost 18 months in prison. In his last trial, in Veles, he was sentenced in absentia to 2.5 years in prison on charges of embezzlement.
He was last arrested on December 12, 2011, upon entering Macedonia from Greece. He returned to the country to request a retrial, but the Macedonian authorities have failed in ordering it, under various pretexts.
The MPC is canonically unrecognized, and the SPC considers it schismatic since it declared autocephaly unilaterally in 1967.
The MPC has defrocked Bishop Jovan and the SPC has appointed him as Serbian exarch in Macedonia.
The SPC believes Bishop Jovan is a victim of rigged political trials because of his being against the schism, while Amnesty International and Freedom House have said that he is a prisoner of conscience.