by Stephen Karganovic for The Saker Blog

In Serbia, severely restrictive measures taken ostensibly to combat the corona virus pandemic are turning increasingly into a cover for the persecution not only of political critics but also religious leaders who refuse to abide by government decrees effectively abolishing collective Orthodox worship during Lent. Last week, the regime’s target was Republican Party leader Nikola Sandulović. On Saturday, April 4, it was the turn of Bishop Naum of the Rashka and Prizren Serbian Orthodox Diocese in Exile, who is also abbot of the St. Justin Popović Monastery in Barajevo, near Belgrade.

SIDEBAR: The latest news from the family of the incarcerated regime critic Nikola Sandulović is that, while in confinement, he suffered a debilitating stroke. His family are not allowed to see him and they have no precise knowledge where he is being held, incommunicado. This turn of events makes it even more urgent to contact Danny Kaye, the UN Human rights rapporteur to express concern for Mr. Sandulović’s wellbeing.

The regime did not just declare a state of exception, unconstitutionally and without allowing the effectively dispersed parliament to debate the measure; it has proceeded with a vengeance to issue a series of decrees during Lent prohibiting religious gatherings as well. Prof. Zoran Čvorović of the Faculty of Law of Kragujevac University has argued forcefully that “freedom of religion is guaranteed by Art. 43 of the Serbian Constitution and by Art. 9 of the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. It is an absolute right which according to Art. 202 of the Constitution may not in any way be curtailed, even during the state of exception. Therefore, preventing believers to attend the holy liturgy constitutes unconstitutional abuse of authority by the Government and the President.”

Such constitutional niceties, as argued by a fuddy-duddy law professor, mattered little a week ago to the regime and its goons when the police burst into the local church in the community of Lazarevac, just as the Gospel was being read, and broke up the “illegal gathering” in a crass manner that vividly recalled the Soviet days.

Unlike the official church hierarchy, which meekly submitted to the regime’s demand that worship activities be conducted at home on an individual basis (the Soviet refrain that “religion is a private affair,” to be hidden from public view, is readily recalled), Bishop Naum – who is in communion with Bishop Artemije who was removed from his see in Kosovo in 2010 at the insistence of NATO embassies in Belgrade – refused to limit collective liturgical celebrations and to impiously adapt traditional communion practice to conform to regime demands.

On Saturday, April 4, the police showed up at the monastery, apparently tipped off by informants that a liturgical service was in progress. After the bishop’s sermon and once worshippers dispersed, the police moved in and arrested Bishop Naum for organizing an illegal gathering (including communion from a single chalice and using the same spoon) that allegedly threatened to spread the corona virus contagion.

At present, there is no reliable information about where the bishop is being held or what the authorities intend to do with him. According to unofficial rumors he is to be taken before a judge on Monday. If his parishioners show up in court to give him moral support, but fail to keep the prescribed “social distance” of one meter, chances are that they may also be arrested.

The words of pastor Niemoller, “First they came…”, are today more pertinent than ever. The functionaries of the official church would be wise to pay heed to Niemoller’s words before continuing to pretend, in the manner of their Soviet colleague Metropolitan Sergius (and here), that they did not notice the arrest and persecution of their fellow hierarch. So far, not a single official church bishop has uttered a word of protest. Will there be anyone left to reprove their own persecutors when the police come knocking on their door?

We therefore once again appeal to readers to react, now no longer only to Nikola Sandulović’s arrest but also to the persecution of Bishop Naum, by making it an international issue, which it properly is. Please email your concern for Mr. Sandulović’s and Bishop Naum’s safety and wellbeing to David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, at . You may send him a fax message at: +41 22 917 9006. If you are able and wish to contact him by mail, please write to him at the following address:

Mr. David Kaye
Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10

This weekend, Serbia is under house arrest until 5 am on Monday. The regime is using its squad of medical charlatans to justify ever tightening and completely illegal restrictions being imposed on the citizens of that unfortunate country. Please add your voice in protest and moral support for the victims of, alongside tragicomical Montenegro, the last unbridled tyranny in Europe.

His Eminence, Bishop Naum

Police arrive on the monastery grounds to arrest Bishop Naum

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