MACEDONIA: Sentence reduction sees Serbian bishop freed

Drasko Djenovic, Forum 18 News Service

The 28 February reduction of the sentence imposed on the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Macedonia, Archbishop Jovan (Vranisskovski), saw him freed from prison in Idrizovo several days later. But it remains unclear how much freedom the Church – which faces strong pressure from the government and the rival Macedonian Orthodox Church – will have. Father David (Ninov) told Forum 18 News Service he hopes charges against other monks and nuns for “performing unauthorised activities” will now be dropped, but complained of the government’s continuing refusal to grant the Church registration. Archbishop Jovan’s lawyer Vasko Georgiev told Forum 18 he is optimistic that the proposed new religion law will explicitly guarantee freedom to hold worship services on private property “since this is the European standard”. Serbian Orthodox, Protestants and others complain that under unwritten rules, no non-Macedonian Orthodox places of worship can currently be built.

On 28 February, Macedonia’s Supreme Court reduced the prison term imposed on the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the country after 217 days’ imprisonment. Jovan (Vranisskovski), Archbishop of Ohrid and Metropolitan of Skopje – who marked his fortieth birthday that day – saw his total sentence reduced from two years and four months’ imprisonment to eight months’ imprisonment. This effectively meant that he would be freed immediately, though confusion surrounded his release. He was allowed out of Idrizovo prison on 3 March on “weekend leave” but was told he would have to return to prison on 6 March unless court papers arrived from Skopje by the end of the day confirming the sentence reduction. Jovan’s lawyer Vasko Georgiev confirmed to Forum 18 News Service on 6 March that the court papers have arrived and that his client does not have to return to prison. (Full Article at Forum 18 News)