President Aleksandar Vucic and Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) Patriarch Irinej expressed “great concern” over the arrests of a group of priests in Montenegro on Tuesday night following a church service attended by thousands despite a ban on public gatherings.
SPC Bishop of Budim-Niskic Joanikije and eight priestswere detained for 72 hours after thousands attended the Church liturgy and feast on St, Vasilije Day despite the Government ban on gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic.
A joint statement said that they also “expressed the hope that our people will be calm and collected in these moments when no reasonable person would want any unrest and conflict” in their telephone conversation.
Montenegro police filed criminal charges on Wednesday against three opposition MPs suspected of committing a crime by calling for resistance. The charges say all three have publicly asked the SPC archbishop Amfilofije, the head of the Church in Montenegro, to call on people to join the celebration of the St. Vasilije Day in Niksic.
“Patriarch Irinej recalled that the culmination of the hostile attitude of the state of Montenegro towards the SPC started with the adopting of the law on freedom of confession which harshly ignored SPC requests for equal treatment compared to other churches and religious communities and the protection of the rights which our church has enjoyed for centuries. The fact is that the law was adopted at the huge displeasure of our people late last year and early this year and now bishops and priests are being arrested and that is proof that the Montenegrin state is persecuting the SPC,” the statement said.
It added that Vucic offered full support to the Patriarch and SPC Bishops in Montenegro and their efforts to resolve problems peacefully. Vucic is also quoted as expressing the conviction that Bishop Joanikije and the other arrested priests will be released quickly.