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MONTENEGRO: Is it really abiding by EU standards in extradition cases?

Is Montenegro really abiding by EU standards in extradition cases?

 

Suspicions of “double standards”

 

By Willy Fautré

 

THE EUROPEAN TIMES (15.12.2021) – https://bit.ly/3mbp483 – In autumn of this year, Human Rights Without Frontiers was approached by the wife of Georgii Rossi, a Ukrainian businessman currently in prison in Montenegro. He is not a billionaire or a tycoon. He is an ordinary financier who left the Russian Federation in 2013.

 

Six years after Georgii Rossi left the Russian Federation, he was identified on Interpol’s international wanted list at the request of the Russian Federation on alleged charges of illegal bank activities in 2011-2013 and was arrested in Montenegro in August 2021. Now he is under threat of extradition to the Russian Federation. On 18 November, I visited him in prison in Velje Brdo.

 

From my conversation with Georgii Rossi

 

Georgii considers absurd the accusations of the Russian authorities and does not admit his guilt. Since 2013 he has been traveling around the world without any problem, but on 12 August last he was arrested at the airport in Montenegro. During our talk in prison, he also shared an unfortunate fact with me:  he is sick because he has cancer (melanoma). His disease had been diagnosed before his imprisonment in Montenegro and he had started a medical treatment in Ukraine but it should continue. Of course, Georgii’s fate in a Russian prison would be obvious: he would die there.

 

To clarify the extradition practices in Montenegro, I requested an interview with the Minister of Justice, Human and Minority Rights of Montenegro. As the position had been vacant for several months for political reasons, the First Secretary of the Ministry, Boris Maric, accepted to be interviewed. He kindly told me about the legal framework of the extradition procedures in Montenegro, the general time frame for the review of cases and statistics.  Below are some of his answers but the full version of the interview is available here.

 

From the interview of the State Secretary of the Ministry Boris Maric

 

Willy Fautre: Have you received requests of extradition by Russia these last few years?

 

Boris Maric: There is no difference whatever the country we work with. We examine each case separately. In 2021, 11 individuals were requested by the Russian Federation. One person has already been extradited to Russia. The other 10 people are in detention. They have all made requests for political asylum.

 

Willy Fautre: What about extradition requests from an EU member state?

 

Boris Maric: Concerning EU member states, there were 19 requests in 2021. In 12 cases, Montenegro gave the green light to their extradition. The other seven cases are still being reviewed. In 2020, there were 20 requests. One of them was withdrawn because it was not relevant any more and in the other 19 cases, Montenegro extradited the wanted persons.

 

Some disturbing facts

While citing the national statistics of extradition cases, Mr. Maric failed to talk about the recent high-profile case of the Russian billionaire Chengiz Ismailov, the former owner and director of the Cherkizovsky market, who was detained in Montenegro at the request of Interpol on 1 October 2021. The Russian Federation requested Ismailov’s extradition from Montenegro on charges of organizing the murder of two businessmen. Strange though it may be, only three weeks after his arrest, on 22 October last, Ismailov was quickly granted political asylum in Montenegro. Some mass media outlets also revealed that before his arrest Ismailov had been living in Montenegro for several years.

Another question is “Why do people prosecuted by the Russian justice come to Montenegro?” In 2021, there were 11 cases in 11 months, which is not a small number.

Corruption cases in Montenegro have been widely reported over the years, including by EU institutions,  and officials in Montenegro do not deny this problem. They promise the European Union to combat mercilessly corrupt practices in the country, nepotism, and mafia groups. And it is possible that Montenegro guarantees a certain “protection” to people wanted by the Russian Federation but certainly not for free. There are several official ways of getting this sort of “protection”: by acquiring Montenegrin citizenship, accepting requests for political asylum and rejecting extradition.

 

In such cases, it can be assumed that a person wanted by the Russian Federation, who is already on the territory of Montenegro, has no other choice but to “pay” and become a “cash cow.” If such an individual is not willing or unable to “pay”, then he will be extradited to the Russian Federation, where he may be tortured in prison.

This presupposes the existence of an organized mafia scheme in Montenegro and people who serve it at various levels. However, perhaps the situation is even more severe if there is some “tacit agreement” between Montenegro and the Russian Federation on such cases. If so, then this is a bad sign for Montenegro which wants to adhere to the European Union.

A few days after I visited Georgii Rossi in prison, it became known that the Supreme Court of Podgorica had decided to extradite him to the Russian Federation but such a decision raises a number of questions.

In any extradition matter, the requesting state must deliver facts and evidence to support its reasonable suspicion of the perpetration of a crime. However, the Russian request concerning Rossi I have studied with a lawyer in a third country has only a reference to three rulings of the investigative authorities of the Russian Federation but fails to include the location, the time and the way the alleged crime was committed. Noteworthy is that according to the European Convention on Extradition and the Montenegro Law on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, such information is mandatory in a request for extradition to be considered valid. As such crucial information is missing, it cannot be understood for which reason the Supreme Court of Podgorica did not reject the request for extradition.

This is one of the reasons for which Georgy Rossi has appealed the controversial decision of the Montenegrin Supreme Court.





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MONTENEGRO: Case of Georgii Rossi under threat of extradition to Russia/ HRWF Open Letter to the Minister of Justice

HRWF Open Letter to the Minister of Justice

  JE

 

December 15, 2021 No. 1356/12/21

 

To the Minister of Justice, Human and Minority Rights Crna Gora

Mr. Sergej Sekulivic

 

Copy: The First Secretary of the Minister of Justice, Human and Minority Rights Crna Gora, Boris Maric

 

Concerns: The extradition case of Georgii Rossi to the Russian Federation

 

Dear Mr Minister,

 

Montenegro is a candidate to the European Union membership. Today, the EU heads of states are meeting in Brussels to talk about issues concerning the EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood. On this occasion, I published yesterday an article about Montenegro’s extradition practices in The European Times.

 

My name is Willy Fautré; I am an international human rights defender and investigative journalist from Brussels. I am the head of the NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers (Brussels). I have examined the extradition case of Georgii Rossi from Montenegro to the Russian Federation. On 18.11.2021, I had a face to face conversation with him in prison in Podgorica. On 22.11.2021, I interviewed State Secretary Boris Maric about the extradition procedures in Montenegro after I was informed verbally that Mr. Sergei Sekulovich was not ready to meet me due to his tight schedule.

During the interview, Mr. Maric assured me that when Montenegro decides on extradition cases, it is guided by the European Convention on Extradition, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and The Law on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters of Montenegro. Also, he noted that in the context of European integration, Montenegro adheres to the trajectory practiced by Strasbourg.

 

I have presented my views on the issue of extradition from Montenegro to Russia in my article published yesterday (15 December) in the European Times: https://www.europeantimes.news/2021/12/is-montenegro-really-abiding-by-eu-standards-in-extradition-cases/  

 

With this letter, I am approaching you as a European human rights defender concerning the following.

 

It is known to me that the Supreme Court of Podgorica has approved the extradition of Georgii Rossi. This fact is a serious concern to us; I kindly ask you to pay attention to the following while considering his case:

 

According to Article 11 of The Law on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters of Montenegro referred to by the Supreme Court of Podgorica in the decision it has delivered, one of the conditions for extradition upon request of the requesting State is that the requesting party must provide facts and evidence that there is a reasonable suspicion that the individual, whose extradition is requested, has committed a criminal offense. The same information is indicated in the European Convention on Extradition. 

 

I have good knowledge of the fact that the documents provided to Montenegro by the authorities of the Russian Federation do not contain any specific location, time, or method of committing the alleged crime attributed to Georgii Rossi, which is a flagrant violation of the norms of the European Convention on Extradition and the Montenegrin Law on international legal assistance as well. All the details are set out in the appeal case of Georgii Rossi. 

 

These facts indicate that the accusation of Georgii Rossi in the Russian Federation has been fabricated, and his extradition to such an undemocratic country on such grounds could be a reason to consider Montenegro a state that is not yet ready to adhere and defend European values in terms of respect for the rule of law and human rights. I am not questioning the competence of Montenegrin courts. I assume that, perhaps, while considering the case of Georgii Rossi, judges did not pay enough attention to the documents provided by the Russian side. 

 

Among other matters, I have some expertise in extradition cases, especially concerning the requesting party, the Russian Federation, a country the human rights of which I have been monitoring for decades. Personally, I consider this country a “standard” of the undemocratic and totalitarian state, primarily after the recent publication of video recordings of tortures in Russian prisons denouncing the rape of prisoners and other forms of humiliation of their human dignity. These videos have been published by Deutsche Welle, France 24, BBC, and Reuters, among others. These facts came to light in early October 2021 and are known by many European human rights NGOs. This state of affairs in Russian prisons is dangerous, particularly for people who suffer from complex disorders; in such conditions, they are subjected to torture and deprived of medical care.

 

I am aware thаt Georgii Rossi is unwell as he has cancer (melanoma). This disease caught him before his imprisonment in Montenegro. He completed a treatment course but has to continue it. In a Russian prison, Georgii’s fate is easy to guess:  he will die there (people are not only denied medical treatment but also tortured in those prisons). Thus, his extradition to the Russian Federation is equivalent to his murder. As a European human rights defender, I ask you to pay attention to these facts I have presented and take them into account.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Willy Fautré





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MONTENEGRO: Freedom of religion: 2021 Report of Aid to the Church in Need

Freedom of religion: 2021 Report of Aid to the Church in Need

HRWF (06.09.2021) – See https://acninternational.org/religiousfreedomreport/reports/me/

 

Legal framework on freedom of religion and actual application

 

The Republic of Montenegro is a secular state. Its constitution[1] guarantees freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Pursuant to Article 46, “Everyone shall be guaranteed the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as the right to change the religion or belief and the freedom to, individually or collectively with others, publicly or privately, express the religion or belief by prayer, preaches, customs or rites. No one shall be obliged to declare own religious and other beliefs.”

The Montenegrin constitution recognises no state religion, nor any traditional religious community. Article 14 states that “religious communities shall be separated from the state” and guarantees equal rights and freedoms in the practice of ceremonies and religious rites and affairs.

Article 48 provides for the right to conscientious objection to military service.

Whilst the constitution, adopted in 2007 and amended in 2013, is in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), religion and related issues are also governed by other legislation.

When the country became independent in 2006, the 1977 Law on the Legal Position of Religious Communities (LLSRC)[2] remained in effect. Adopted when the country was one of the constitutive republics of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, it is inspired by the then dominant Marxist ideology and atheism.

 

Eventually, the government recognised the need for a new law that is in line with the ECHR. On 30th July 2015, a Draft Law on Freedom of Religion[3] was proposed to address this issue. However, it caused great concerns for most Churches and religious communities because it introduced an element of discrimination between Montenegrin citizens and foreign nationals, and ethnic minorities without Montenegrin passports. This is important because according to the last census (2011), Montenegrins represent only 45 percent of the country’s population (around 630,000), leaving Serbs (28.7 percent), Bosniaks (8.6 percent), Albanians (4.9 percent) and others seemingly unprotected.[4]

 

Moreover, the proposed bill contained provisions that undermined the autonomy of Churches and religious communities by opening the possibility of state interference in their internal affairs, such as the appointment of high religious dignitaries. Additionally, there were provisions concerning the nationalisation of religious buildings and properties which were never returned to their legitimate owners after being confiscated by the Communist government post-World War II. The Draft Law also left the legal status of the Serbian Orthodox Church unresolved even though it accounts for 70 percent of the Orthodox population while the Montenegrin Orthodox Church represents only 30 percent.

On 24th August 2015, the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights of Montenegro requested the opinion of the Venice Commission (Council of Europe) about the Draft Law.[5]Criticism by the rapporteurs led Montenegrin authorities to abandon it.

 

In May 2019, the authorities went back to the Venice Commission for an opinion on a new Draft Law on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Legal Status of Religious Communities.[6]Strong recommendations were issued to conform the draft law to international standards. A law was eventually adopted in December 2019 and came into effect in January 2020.[7]

 

Currently, there are 21 recognised religious groups in the country.  The government has signed agreements with some of them. The Basic Agreement between Montenegro and the Holy See, which was signed on 24th June 2011 in the Vatican and ratified on 21st June 2012, regulates the legal framework of relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the state.[8] In 2012, the government signed similar agreements with the Islamic and Jewish communities, but not with the Serbian Orthodox Church.

 

All of the recognised groups are registered except for the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC), which was exempted from registration as it existed before the LLSRC came into force in 1977.

In 1920, following the “Podgorica Assembly” (1918)[9], the Montenegrin Autocephalous Church (MAC) was merged with the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC), which for decades was considered the sole legitimate Orthodox body in Montenegro.

 

The Montenegrin Orthodox Church (MOC) was established on 31st October 1993, but it was not canonically recognised by other Eastern Orthodox Churches. The new ecclesiastical body now claims the succession to the autocephalous Church which was active until 1920. For the Montenegrin Orthodox Church, the referendum of 12th May 2006, which sanctioned Montenegro’s independence from Serbia, should be interpreted as nullifying the 1920 royal decree that put an end to the Montenegrin Autocephalous Church. The Serbian Orthodox Church denies that the 1993 Montenegrin Orthodox Church is the rightful successor of the Montenegrin Autocephalous Church. Instead, it claims that the Montenegrin Autocephalous Church participated in the creation of the Serbian Orthodox Church by merging with it in 1920.[10]

 

In 2001, the Montenegrin Orthodox Church was officially registered as an NGO. The Serbian Orthodox Church is not registered either as an NGO or as a religious community under Article 2 of the 1977 LLSRC, and so formally it is not a legal entity.

On 22nd August 2016, the Serbian Orthodox Church obtained a document from the Ministry of the Interior stating that the Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral and other Orthodox eparchies of the Serbian Orthodox Church do not have to register because they pre-existed the entering into force of the 1977 LLSRC.

In November 2018, the Montenegrin Parliament adopted a resolution on the occasion of the centenary of the Podgorica Assembly. This resolution invalidated the decisions of the Podgorica Assembly of 1918.

INCIDENTS AND DEVELOPMENTS

 

The aforementioned legal and historical background is the foundation of the three-way dispute between the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Montenegrin Orthodox Church and the Republic of Montenegro over the ownership of religious buildings and other property.

Ignoring the recommendations of the Venice Commission, the Montenegrin Parliament passed a law on 27th December 2019 directly impacting the property of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The vote was marred by a confrontation in Parliament that involved 24 people, including 18 MPs from the pro-Serb Democratic Front.[11]

The adoption of the new law triggered daily demonstrations by those who identify as Serbs in Montenegro, heightening tensions between Montenegro and Serbia. Despite strong opposition both inside and outside Parliament, the law came into force on 8th January 2020.[12]

 

Article 62 of the law requires religious communities to prove ownership of the property they used before 1918 when Montenegro became a part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (renamed the ‘Kingdom of Yugoslavia’ in 1929); otherwise, it becomes state property. For the Serbian Orthodox Church, this meant losing its medieval monasteries and churches, as well as any other property built before 1st December 1918, which, for the most part, lack title deeds.[13]

 

In a statement issued in May 2019, the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro pointed out that the Draft Law on Freedom of Religion would lead to the:

“(1) confiscation (nationalization) of religious property, (2) annihilation of the previously obtained legal status of religious communities, (3) systematic discrimination between the churches and religious communities, (4) narrowing the scope of freedom of religion and belief and disenabling the equal status and rights of priests and religious officers, including the prohibition of the religious teaching within the elementary schools, and (5) unilateral drafting procedure cleansed from every kind of public, institutional and/or inclusive dialogue.”[14]

 

On 31st January 2020, the police in Montenegro arrested the mother of Milan Knežević, a leader of the main opposition alliance in Montenegro’s Parliament as well as a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), along with another member of his family. The arrests appear to be government retaliation following a conference Knežević held the day before with the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) at the Council of Europe (Strasbourg). The conference examined the new religion law, exposing its negative impact on the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC).[15]

 

In December 2019, Pope Francis[16] and Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople[17] expressed strong concerns about the situation of Orthodoxy in Montenegro and called for interreligious dialogue.

 

The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ahmed Shaheed, the EU External Action Service (EEAS), and other organisations[18] called for a more inclusive approach, bringing together all relevant stakeholders in line with international and European standards on human rights.

 

Under pressure from the international community, Montenegro finally decided to temporarily postpone the implementation of the law until its Constitutional Court ruled on its constitutionality, and, in the case of rejection, until the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.[19]

Prospects for religious freedom

 

The tensions between the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Montenegrin state continue unabated. The political agenda of Montenegro appears to be to upgrade the status of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church and to reduce the role and presence of the Serbian Orthodox Church through nationalisation.

Hope for improvement lies with the international community, particularly the European Union (EU), as Montenegro is a candidate for EU membership. The most recent recommendations of the Venice Commission[20] also provide a good roadmap for a peaceful resolution to the crisis. With little headway in the thorny issue to date, the prospect for freedom of religion remains negative.

 

END NOTES/ SOURCES

 

  1. Montenegro 2007 (rev. 2013), Constitute Project, https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Montenegro_2013?lang=en (accessed 29th December 2020).  
  2. See para. 8-9, “Opinion of the Venice Commission on the 2019 Draft Law of Montenegro on Freedom of Religion or Beliefs and the Legal Status of Religious Communities,” European Commission for Democracy through Law,  https://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/default.aspx?pdffile=CDL-AD(2019)010-e (accessed 28th March 2020). 
  3. “Draft Law on freedom of Religion or Belief of Montenegro (2015),” European Commission for Democracy through Law, https://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/default.aspx?pdffile=CDL-REF(2015)032-e (accessed 28th March 2020).  
  4. Census of Population, Households and Dwellings in Montenegro 2011, Montenegro Statistical Office, http://www.monstat.org/userfiles/file/popis2011/saopstenje/saopstenje(1).pdf (accessed 29th March 2020).  
  5. “Draft Law on freedom of Religion or Belief of Montenegro (2015),” op. cit. 
  6. “Opinion of the Venice Commission on the Draft Law of Montenegro on Freedom of Religion or Beliefs and the Legal Status of Religious Communities (2019),” op. cit. 
  7. Sandra Maksimović, “Montenegrin Law on Religious Freedom: Polarization that benefits the government(s)?” European Western Balkans, 13th January 2020, https://europeanwesternbalkans.com/2020/01/13/montenegrin-law-on-religious-freedom-polarization-that-benefits-the-governments/ (accessed 28th March 2020). 
  8. “Law on Ratification of Basic Agreement between Montenegro and Holy See,” Government of Montenegro, http://www.gov.me/ResourceManager/FileDownload.aspx?rId=98490&rType=2 (accessed 28th March 2020). 
  9. “Unification of Montenegro and Serbia (1918) – Podgorica’s Assembly,” MonteNet, http://www.montenet.org/history/podgskup.htm (accessed 29th March 2020). 
  10. See para. 13-18, “Opinion of the Venice Commission on the Draft Law of Montenegro on Freedom of Religion or Beliefs and the Legal Status of Religious Communities (2019),” op. cit. 
  11. Sandra Maksimović, op. cit.-
  12. “Decree on Promulgation of Law on Freedom of Religion or Beliefs and Legal Status of Religious Communities,” Certified translation of the law Serbian-English, American Center for Law and Justice, http://media.aclj.org/pdf/Parliament-of-Montenegro,-Law-on-Freedom-of-Religion-or-Beliefs-and-Legal-Status-of-Religious-Communities,-27-December-2019.pdf(accessed 28th March 2020). 
  13. Grégor Puppinck, “Overview of the Law against the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro,” European Centre for Law and Justice, European Centre for Law and Justice,https://eclj.org/religious-autonomy/coe/overview-on-the-law-against-the-serbian-orthodox-church-in-montenegro?lng=en (accessed 28th March 2020). 
  14. “The threat to the right to survival of the Churches and religious communities,” written statement by the Orthodox Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Littoral and the Diocese of Budimlje and Niksic of the Serbian Orthodox Church at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting 2019 16–27 September (Warsaw), 19th September 2019, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), https://www.osce.org/odihr/431207?download=true (accessed 28th March 2020). 
  15. Grégor Puppinck, “The regime represses the Orthodox Church’s defenders,” European Centre for Law and Justice, https://eclj.org/religious-autonomy/coe/montenegro-the-neo-communist-regime-starts-repressing-the-defenders-of-the-orthodox-church (accessed 28th March 2020). 
  16. Mladen Dragojlovic, “Pope Francis sent message related to Montenegrin law on religious freedoms,” IBNA, 12th December 2019, https://balkaneu.com/pope-francis-sent-the-message-related-to-montenegrin-law-on-religious-freedoms/ (accessed 28th March 2020). 
  17. Patriarch Bartholomew, “We will never give autocephaly to the Montenegrin Orthodox Church,” Orthodox Christianity, 31st December 2019, https://orthochristian.com/126846.html (accessed 28th March 2020). 
  18. “Overview of the Law against the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro,” European Centre for Law and Justice, https://eclj.org/religious-autonomy/coe/overview-on-the-law-against-the-serbian-orthodox-church-in-montenegro?lng=en (accessed 28th March 2020). 
  19. “Montenegro is rethinking the law on freedom of religion,” b92, 7th February 2020, https://bit.ly/2Uoducn (accessed 28th March 2020). 
  20. “Opinion of the Venice Commission on the Draft Law of Montenegro on Freedom of Religion or Beliefs and the Legal Status of Religious Communities (2019),” op. cit. 

 

Further reading about FORB in Montenegro on HRWF website





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MONTENEGRO: At least 20 injured in Serbian church protest in Montenegro

At least 20 injured in Serbian church protest in Montenegro

Euronews (05.09.2021) – https://bit.ly/2Vir1Fz – At least 20 people were injured Sunday in Montenegro during clashes between police and demonstrators trying to prevent the inauguration of the new head of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

 

Police also announced eight arrests following the violence that marred the brief enthronement ceremony in Cetinje, the former royal city in the south of the country.

 

Bishop Joanikije had to be flown by helicopter from the capital Podgorica to the city’s monastery to get around the barricades that had been blocking access roads to Cetinje since the previous day.

 

Riot police used tear gas on protesters who fired gunshots in the air and hurled bottles and stones early Sunday in Montenegro before a planned inauguration of the new head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the country.

 

The ceremony scheduled in Cetinje, a former capital of the small Balkan nation, has angered opponents of the Serbian church in Montenegro, which declared independence from neighbouring Serbia in 2006.

 

On Saturday, hundreds of protesters confronted police in Cetinje around a monastery where the inauguration of Metropolitan Joanikije is supposed to take place. The demonstrators also set up road barriers with trash containers, tires and large rocks to prevent church and state dignitaries from coming to the inauguration.

 

Chanting “This is Not Serbia!” and “This is Montenegro!,” many of the protesters spent the night at the barriers amid reports that police were sending reinforcements to break through the blockade. The protesters, some firing handguns into the air, set fire to car tires at one of the blockades, trying to prevent police from breaking through.

 

Montenegrins remain deeply divided over their country’s ties with neighbouring Serbia and the Serbian Orthodox Church, which is the nation’s dominant religious institution. Around 30% of Montenegro’s 620,000 people consider themselves Serb.

 

The situation flared up in Cetinje early Sunday after a relatively calm night that followed Saturday’s clashes and a parallel gathering in the capital, Podgorica, where thousands of people greeted Serbian Patriarch Porfirije and Metropolitan Joanikije before the planned inauguration.

 

In a clear demonstration of the sharp political and social divide in Montenegro, President Milo Djukanovic, the architect of the state’s independence from Serbia, visited Cetinje while the current pro-Serb Prime Minister Zdravko Krivokapic went to Podgorica.

 

Though Djukanovic said he wasn’t taking sides as the president of all citizens, he praised the protesters in Cetinje for guarding national interests against the alleged bid by Serbia to impose its influence in Montenegro through the church.

 

“We need to protect our freedom and sovereignty,” Djukanovic told the state television channel RTCG, urging calm and restraint. “Any nationally-responsible individual naturally resists.”

 

Djukanovic has urged that the inauguration be postponed and some media late Saturday reported this would happen, but the information was soon denied by the Serbian church which said the inauguration would take place despite the tensions.

 

Since Montenegro split from Serbia, pro-independence Montenegrins have advocated for a recognised Orthodox Christian church that is separate from the Serbian one.

 

Joanikije’s predecessor as the church’s leader in Montenegro, Amfilohije, died in October after contracting COVID-19.

 

The Serbian Orthodox Church played a key role in demonstrations last year that helped topple a long-ruling pro-Western government in Montenegro. The new government now includes staunchly pro-Serb and pro-Russian parties.

 

Montenegro’s previous authorities led the country to independence from Serbia and defied Russia to join NATO in 2017. Montenegro also is seeking to become a European Union member.

 

Photo : People attend the arrival of the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, in Podgorica, Montenegro, Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021.   –   Copyright  AP Photo/Risto Bozovic

 

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Further reading about FORB in Montenegro on HRWF website





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MONTENEGRO ‘Patriots’ rally against changes to religion law

Democratic Party of Socialists vice president, Dusko Markovic attending so-called patriotic protests in Podgorica, Montenegro. Photo:BIRN/Samir Kajosevic

Thousands of supporters demonstrated in Podgorica on Monday, demanding that the new government withdraw changes to the hotly disputed Freedom of Religion Law – which had angered ethnic Serbs and the Serbian Orthodox Church.

 

 

 

By Samir Kajosevic

 

Balkan Insight (28.12.2020) – https://bit.ly/3mTaSyh – Supporters of so-called patriotic organisations in Montenegro protested on Monday in the capital Podgorica against the new government’s proposals to change the hotly disputed Freedom of Religion law, erasing all elements opposed by the powerful Serbian Orthodox Church.

Waving Montenegrin flags and chanting against the new government, thousands of protesters called on MPs not to support the changes due to be voted on in parliament by the end of the year.

One of the organisers, Nemanja Batricevic, accused the new government of giving away assets to the Serbian Orthodox Church, and to Serbia.

“They are handing Montenegrin cultural treasure to the Serbian Orthodox Church and to Serbia. Today, with the votes of the corrupted Montenegrins, they are handing over Montenegro again,” Batricevic said.

Protests were staged in front of the parliament ahead of the debate about the proposed changes. Before the session started, former PM Dusko Markovic, vice president of the now opposition Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, and party colleagues, greeted the protesters.

The protesters were also supported by some officials of the opposition Social Democratic Party, Social Democrats and Liberal Party.

After the last parliament passed the law in December 2019, Serbian Orthodox Church priests, believers and supporters staged numerous protests demanding its withdrawal. The Church – whose relations with the previous government were already poor – claimed the new law would allow the state to confiscate its property.

On August 30, three opposition blocs won a slender majority of 41 of the 81 seats in parliament, ousting the long-ruling DPS, which had passed the religion law.

After the election, the new Prime Minister, Zdravko Krivokapic, promised that changing the law would be a priority. On December 18, the new government said it would change the law by erasing all elements previously opposed by the Serbian Orthodox Church.

The changes erase the main bone of contention – an obligation on religious communities to provide clear evidence of ownership in order to retain their properties.

There will also be no registration of religious buildings and sites owned by the independent kingdom of Montenegro before it became part of the Serb-dominated Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in 1918, later renamed Yugoslavia.

The government is also withdrawing the obligation for religious communities to re-register, which angered the Serbian Church, which said its religious community had existed in Montenegro for eight centuries.

A DPS MP, Dragutin Papovic, said the proposals discriminated against two-thirds of Montenenrgin citizens. “This government gives a monopoly to only one religious community and only one nation. We will not allow this and will use all democratic ways to protect our citizens,” Papovic told a press conference.

Minister of Justice Vladimir Leposavic said no discrimination between religious communities was intended. “With the changes to the law, the cultural property owned by religious communities has been strengthened. No one can transfer state property,” Leposavic said.


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