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The right to believe, to worship and witness
The right to change one’s belief or religion
The right to join together and express one’s belief

KOSOVO: Renewed attacks on Serbian Orthodox

In the first such incidents since August, Forum 18 News Service has learnt that two Serbian Orthodox churches have been vandalised. As with all such attacks since 1999, when the UN took over administration of the province, no perpetrators have been identified or charged. The NATO-led KFOR, which has overall control of security, claimed to Forum 18 that it had "no knowledge of the alleged events". Despite this, Fr Sava (Janjic), of Decani Monastery, told Forum 18 that the Orthodox Church remains grateful to KFOR troops for their concern and protection, "We do not know what would happen to us without them," but also commented on continuing problems, such as the 10 hours it took to assemble a military escort for priests to travel 15 kilometres to a village to comfort families whose children had been shot, killing and wounding several. Forum 18 has also learnt of numerous Orthodox graveyards being completely destroyed, including in one instance a French military cemetery from the First World War. This war cemetery is now used as a city rubbish dump.

KOSOVO: Religious freedom survey, September 2003

In its survey analysis of the religious freedom situation in ethnically-divided Kosovo (Kosova in Albanian), Forum 18 News Service reports on the continuing systematic attacks in Serbian Orthodox churches, monasteries and graveyards. Although more than 100 have been damaged or destroyed since the international community took control in 1999, Forum 18 has found no evidence that anyone has been prosecuted for these attacks (just as no-one is known to have been prosecuted for Serbian paramilitary and army attacks on 215 mosques during the 1999 war). Protestant leaders have complained that ethnic Albanian church members from Muslim backgrounds at times suffer "persecution", often from family members. The international bodies ruling Kosovo have done little to promote religious freedom.

SERBIA/MONTENEGRO: Attacks on religious minorities in 2002

Following the attack on an open-air Christian music concert last Friday (See F18News 11 August 2003), Forum 18 News Service presents this chronological list of attacks on religious minorities that took place in Serbia/Montenegro during the year 2002. The attackers had a variety of motives, from religious intolerance to the hope of criminal gains. Adventists, Jews, Protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholics, Nazarenes, Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, Lutherans, Reformed, Campus Crusade for Christ, Evangelicals, and Anglicans were all victims of different types of attack in 2002, ranging from hate speech and graffiti to physical assaults. Forum 18 continues to monitor the situation.

SERBIA: Attack on Christian music concert

On the evening of 8 August 2003, during a music concert organised at Vrdnik (90 kilometres or 60 miles north-west of Belgrade) by the local Church of God Pentecostal church and led by a German Pentecostal band from Heidelberg, Forum 18 News Service has learned that the power line was cut by an axe, someone threw a hand grenade near the stage, and after the concert ended one person drove his car in the park where spectators were, threatening organisers that he was armed. No injuries were reported. The police are investigating the incidents, and a Vrdnik city councillor expressed his regrets at these events. "When society does not react at hate speech in the media, and graffiti on church walls, the next things are events like these, which we condemn and ask the state to take measures against the perpetrators", the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia told Forum 18.

MACEDONIA: Serbian Bishop sentenced to Solitary Confinement

Serbian Orthodox Bishop Jovan was arrested in Macedonia, on Sunday, for attempting to perform a baptism in a Macedonian Orthodox Church and was sentenced to five days' solitary confinement in prison. The Macedonian government has claimed to Forum 18 News Service that it "has no links with this arrest, it is an issue of public peace and order". Serbian prime minister Zoran Zivkovic has stated that the Serbian and Montenegrin ministers of Foreign and of Religious affairs will protest to the Macedonian authorities about both this sentence and the ban on Serbian Orthodox priests entering Macedonia in their vestments.

KOSOVO: Further attacks on Orthodox sites

An Orthodox church in Pristina attacked in May was again stoned late on 26 June, while tombstones in an Orthodox graveyard in Kosovska Vitina have been destroyed. "This latest wave of attacks is further proof that Albanian extremists are using all means to intimidate and throw out of Kosovo the remaining Serbian population, while the international community is doing little to prevent it," Fr Sava (Janjic), deputy abbot of the Decani Monastery, told Forum 18 News Service. After the May attack on St Nicholas' Church, KFOR spokesman Garry Bannister-Green told Forum 18 that "KFOR deplores all such acts of mindless vandalism". He denied that removing the KFOR guard had threatened the church's security.

KOSOVO: No protection in capital for attacked Orthodox Church and Priest

Despite repeated requests for protection, including requests made personally two weeks ago to the KFOR commander, adaquate protection for a Serbian Orthodox Church and its priest in Kosovo's capital Pristina has not been provided since the removal of KFOR guards at the end of 2002. Attacks have become frequent and on 10 May many church windows were broken. Parish priest Fr Miroslav Popadic told Forum 18 News Service that "I open the church gates only on Sunday mornings and on major holidays for the faithful to come to liturgy, otherwise, if someone comes to church without a call in advance I do not open the gates. When I visit local villages, I make the sign of the cross, sit in my car and drive fast at my own risk". KFOR's commander told Fr Popadic he "cannot give any more troops for the protection of churches". No arrests have been made since for the attacks on Orthodox churches since 1999 and KFOR has not replied to Forum 18 News Service's questions on this latest attack, or to questions about the security of Orthodox churches and monasteries.

SERBIA: Latest attack leaves Adventist pastor hospitalised

Adventist pastor Josip Tikvicki remains hospitalised with concussion after being severely beaten in the night of 15-16 April when he challenged people who were attacking his church in the city of Zrenjanin. "This is the fifth such incident with Adventist churches in the last ten days. We believe there is an orchestrated campaign against us," Radisa Antic, president of the Adventists' South-East European Union, told Forum 18 in Belgrade on 16 April. Such attacks – which took place despite the current state of emergency – have left Serbia's Adventist community "threatened and insecure". Human rights activist Sonja Biserko told Forum 18 that the attacks are the product of 12 years of nationalism under Milosevic and the last two years of uncontrolled media promotion of the Serbian Orthodox Church. This has, she claims, created a young generation which "hates" religious minorities.

SERBIA/MONTENEGRO: Breakthrough for conscientious objectors?

In what might be a breakthrough in achieving a civilian alternative to military service, currently unavailable in Serbia and Montenegro, a military judge in Nis in south eastern Serbia has decided not to sentence Jehovah's Witness conscientious objector Milan Gligoric. He instead allowed him to apply for civilian service under the terms of newly-adopted Constitutional Agreement of Serbia and Montenegro, which recognises the right to conscientious objection to military service, though he remains in custody in a military barracks. Nazarene and Adventist leaders told Forum 18 News Service that their young men are generally prepared to do unarmed service within the military. But a Nazarene elder told Forum 18 that should a civilian alternative be introduced, he had "no doubt" that all the Nazarenes would opt for it instead.

SERBIA/MONTENEGRO: Will controversial religion law come back?

Adventist and Baptist leaders and human rights activists have said they hope any new religion law in Serbia and Montenegro will not be modelled on the controversial old draft law, whose adoption has now come to a halt with the end of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and its replacement by the new country of Serbia and Montenegro. Goran Miletic of the Humanitarian Law Centre in Belgrade insists that lawmakers must now start again from scratch. "There has to be a completely new draft of the law on religious freedom," he told Forum 18 News Service. Miodrag Zivanovic of the Adventists complained that although the old law was not adopted, some discriminatory provisions are already being applied.