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26 February 2009

SERBIA: Religious freedom survey, February 2009

In its survey analysis of freedom of thought, conscience or belief in Serbia, Forum 18 News Service notes that the most serious remains violent attacks, especially on Jehovah's Witness and Adventist property. The numbers of these attacks have been declining, and a crucial factor in this has been positive changes in media portrayals of non-Serbian Orthodox communities. Gaining legal status is difficult for communities defined by the Religion Law as "non-traditional" who must apply for recognition, and may face apparently arbitrary denials of status. This leads to practical problems for some communities, such as an inability to employ people. Restitution of confiscated property is a problem for most religious communities, including the Serbian Orthodox Church which suffered most communist-era confiscations. Legally, restitution of Jewish property confiscated in the Second World War is also difficult. Education is a sensitive issue, with problems such as negative portrayal of "non-traditional" communities in school religious education.

20 February 2009

SERBIA: Who can gain legal status?

State registration, or legal status, is difficult for "non-traditional" religious communities to gain in Serbia, Forum 18 News Service has found. This can prevent communities from, for example, employing people as clergy or other religious workers. However, although some religious communities known to Forum 18 are without legal status, this has not practically affected them. There does not appear to be a pattern in why some communities are practically affected but not others, and the Religion Ministry itself is not actively harassing unregistered organisations. Several unregistered religious communities are challenging the decision not to register them. These include the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement, and the Montenegrin Orthodox Church, which is not recognised by other Orthodox churches. A number of smaller communities have considered trying to register as non-governmental organisations (NGOs), but as a draft NGO Law has not been passed by Parliament it is unclear when this will be legally possible.

3 December 2008

SERBIA: Violent attacks continuing, but mainly declining

The latest Forum 18 News Service survey of violent attacks against Serbia's religious communities – covering September 2007 to October 2008 – indicates that fewer attacks are taking place compared to previous years. As previously, most physical attacks have been on Seventh-day Adventist and Jehovah's Witnesses properties, and attacks on Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly known as Mormons) properties have risen. As in earlier years, a number of Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries have also suffered attacks. Dragan Novakovic, the Deputy Religion Minister, told Forum 18 that the police and judicial authorities do not provide his Ministry with adequate information. Novakovic also regretted that attackers are usually charged with violating public order, instead of - where appropriate - the more serious charge of inciting or exacerbating national, racial, or religious hatred – which carries higher penalties than public order charges. Novakovic told Forum 18 that the Ministry is determined to reduce attacks. "We will need years to get it down to an acceptable level, but we are determined to do it."

26 February 2008

MACEDONIA: Religious freedom survey, February 2008

In Macedonia, state discrimination in favour of one religious confession – the Macedonian Orthodox Church - is a dominant factor, Forum 18 News Service notes in its religious freedom survey analysis. Alongside this is active discrimination against other religious confessions, especially if officials see them as a threat or as "non-traditional". The main target for state officials is the Serbian Orthodox Church, but smaller confessions such as Baptists, Bektashi Muslims, Hare Krishna devotees and Jehovah's Witnesses are also discriminated against. The major problem faced by most confessions is their inability – due to inconsistent and discriminatory enforcement of the law and planning procedures – to build, expand or obtain buildings for worship. Unclear and discriminatory legal provisions continue in a new Religion Law, due to come into force in May 2008. The Macedonian authorities show few, if any, signs that they are willing to protect the religious freedom of all Macedonian citizens.

7 February 2008

SERBIA: Why won't the authorities stop religious violence?

Despite continuing attacks on religious communities, Forum 18 News Service has found that Serbian authorities appear to be taking few steps to protect their citizens. An extreme illustration of the unwillingness of the authorities to provide justice to religious minority victims is the case of Zivota Milanovic, the only Hare Krishna devotee in Jagodina. He has repeatedly been the victim of knife attacks between 2001 and 2007, yet Jagodina police and the District Prosecutor's Office have taken no effective steps in any of the cases. Because of the official inaction, he told Forum 18 that "I believe that I will be attacked again." A lawyer familiar with the case commented to Forum 18 that "any other attack with more than three stabbings is treated as 'attempted murder'." Faced with the authorities' lack of interest in investigating and stopping these violent crimes, Milanovic has filed a case with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg. The ECtHR has not yet decided whether the case is admissible.

18 January 2008

SERBIA: Legal status possible "in 450-500 years"?

Serbia continues to deny legal status to religious minority communities for reasons – if they are given – which are not found in the Religion Law, Forum 18 News Service has found. The principal person responsible appears to be former Religion Minister Milan Radulovic, who is now an adviser in the Ministry. He refuses some registration applications if the community: refuses to unite with similar communities; is an Orthodox church which is not viewed as part of the Serbian Orthodox Church; is not monotheist; does not have a headquarters in another country; or is seen as non-traditional or philosophical. Speaking to Forum 18, Radulovic has repeatedly said that communities "who are not monotheistic cannot be registered." Radulovic also said that "some of these groups might become part of the structure in 450-500 years when they pass historical tests." Current Religion Minister Radomir Naumov appears to be content to let Radulovic make the decisions.

9 October 2007

SERBIA: Violence continues against religious communities

The number of attacks on Serbia's religious communities appears to continue to be declining, Forum 18 News Service notes in its latest annual survey of such attacks. However, the attacks themselves seem to be becoming more violent and, as in previous years, members of religious minorities are especially likely to be attacked. The police continue to be apparently unwilling to protect members of religious minorities or religious sites at risk of attack – even if they have already been attacked. Members of religious minorities have in the past year been beaten and stabbed, and places of worship have been the targets of arson attacks. Places of worship of the Orthodox Church have occasionally been robbed, but the vast majority of attacks have been on Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Jehovah's Witness and other religious minority individuals and property. Religious communities are sometimes reluctant to report attacks to the police or make them publicly known. Forum 18 knows of smaller "traditional" communities which have denied that they have been attacked after attacks have taken place.

14 August 2007

SERBIA: Arbitrary legal status denials continue

Although Milan Radulovic has been replaced as Serbian Religion Minister by Radomir Naumov, Radulovic is still responsible for deciding whether legal status should be given to religious communities, Forum 18 News Service has found. Some see Radulovic as still in charge of the Ministry, with new Minister Naumov functioning as a figurehead. Many of Serbia's so-called "non-traditional" religious communities are still being denied legal status, including Baptists, Old Catholics, Pentecostals, Jehovah's Witnesses and Hare Krishna devotees. This means that they are unable to legally carry out activities such as running bank accounts, owning property, or paying tax. Two unregistered communities known to Forum 18 have been able to run a bank account, buy property and publish literature, but it is unclear how long this will continue. Interviewed by Forum 18, ex-Minister Radulovic would not explain how specific problems caused to communities by the Religion Ministry could be resolved.

26 April 2007

SERBIA: Government still arbitrarily denying communities legal status

Religious communities in Serbia are still having legal status applications arbitrarily denied, one year after a controversial Religion Law was passed, Forum 18 News Service has found. Many communities are waiting with concern for 7 May 2007. On that day any communities registered before the Law came into force, who have not either re-registered or submitted a new registration application, will lose legal status. Without legal status, it is legally impossible to carry out a wide range of activities such as owning property, publishing literature and having employees. The Religion Ministry has claimed to Forum 18 that seven "non-traditional" communities have gained legal status in the past year - but one of these was unaware that it had legal status. Protestant communities, Hare Krishna devotees and Jehovah's Witnesses have all had applications arbitrarily denied, often for reasons which are clearly misleading or in breach of the Religion Law. Both the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Baptist Union have launched court cases, and if these fail appeals to the European Court of Human Rights are almost certain.

12 March 2007

SERBIA: Very slow official implementation of Restitution Law

Serbia's Restitution Law is being implemented only very slowly, Forum 18 News Service has found. Even the "traditional" religious communities, who have automatic legal status, are having problems in making claims, including the Serbia Orthodox Church which suffered more confiscations than other communities. The Jewish community had much property confiscated during the Second World War, but the Law covers only post-1945 confiscations. Slovak Lutheran Church Bishop Samuel Vrbovsky told Forum 18 he is "not too optimistic" about the restitution process. "My only hope is that because the Serbian Orthodox Church has significant property to be returned, we smaller communities will also get our property back as well." The Islamic community has "a long list of confiscated property," but is finding it difficult to exercise its legal rights. Both "traditional" and "non-traditional" communities are finding it difficult to assemble the documentation required to prove ownership. As the state has been extremely slow in implementing the Restitution Law, it is not yet possible to judge the fairness of the process.

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