U.S. State Department on the restrictions of religious freedom in R. Macedonia
On 26th October, the U.S. State Department published its Religious Freedom Report 2009 for Macedonia. A significant part of the Report is dedicated exactly to the restrictions of the religious freedom that the Government of R. Macedonia is imposing upon the Archbishop of Ohrid and Metropolitan of Skopje Jovan and the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric.
As the State Department points out, one of the restrictions is "the lack of effective implementation of the registration portion of the 2007 legal status law". This restriction "severely hindered new registrants' ability to acquire legal standing."
In the Report it is stressed that "Skopje Court II assigned the registration process to a single judge, who did not meet the timelines required by the law, leaving many applicants waiting months without information. The judge in charge and the president of the court also stated that they would seek to ensure that sources of teaching and liturgy for new registrants are different from those of existing registrants, seemingly intending to protect the autonomy of already-registered groups and contrary to the spirit of the law."
The U.S. State Department also accents the following: "During the reporting period, the court approved two new applicants, and rejected or did not act on applications from 11 religious communities. Some restrictions related to its status as an unregistered group continued to be applied to the ‘Orthodox Archbishopric of Ohrid', which denies the MOC's self-declared autocephaly (also not recognized by other Orthodox churches). "
In the report it is indicated that the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric is lead by the Archbishop Jovan and is recognized as an Archbishopric by the Serbian Orthodox Church. It is emphasized also that "members of the group claimed undue government monitoring or harassment based on their religious beliefs. On July 23, 2008, and February 9-10, 2009, church members reported delays at border crossings into the country and indicated that border guards told them they should take off their monastic clothes in order to facilitate border crossing."
The report points out that "state support for construction of houses of worship and other religious buildings favored the dominant Orthodox religious community."
The U.S. State Department draws attention to the fact that the government refuse to return the passport to Archbishop Jovan and that he "faced a detainment order for a third retrial of a case in which he was initially acquitted by the Veles Trial Court in 2006."
The State Department indicates that Archbishop Jovan's lawyer has not yet received the opinion requested from the expert panel in regard to the trial. The report was finished before the convicting verdict for the Archbishop Jovan was pronounced.
As a constitutive part of the Report, the following is also included: "Embassy officials discussed the implementation of the 2007 legal status law with the court in charge of registrations and with government and religious leaders on numerous occasions, advocating for implementation of the law in a way that meets international standards with respect to human rights and religious freedom and meets the deadlines contained in the law. Embassy staff also worked closely with a number of religious groups and communities seeking to register, serving as a central point for information-sharing among applicants frustrated by court delays and confused by the lack of clear application procedures."
From the Report of the U.S. State Department, it can be clearly seen that R. Macedonia is far from the implementation of the Law for Churches, Religious Communities and Religious groups, hence, it is far from the fulfilling the international standards in regard to the respect of human rights and religious freedoms.
By the state persecution against the Archbishop Jovan and the refusal of the application for registration of the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric, the Government of R. Macedonia is protecting the monopoly of the schismatic MOC, thus creating tensions which do not go in favor of the R. Macedonia's ambitions for integration in the Euro-Atlantic civilization flows.
Following is the link to the U.S. State Department Religious Freedom Report 2009 for Macedonia: http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127323.htm