Archbishop Jovan (John) VI

Stop the terror, persecution
and discrimination on religious grounds
conducted by the Government of FYROMacedonia!

Encyclical Epistle from the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric

Filed under: General — August 10, 2006 @ 10:00 pm

for explanation on the trial resulting with a one year imprisonment punishment of His Beatitude kyr kyr Jovan (John), the Archbishop of Ohrid and Metropolitan of Skopje

The Government of the Republic of Macedonia continues the legal persecution against His Beatitude kyr kyr Jovan (John), the Archbishop of Ohrid and Metropolitan of Skopje, with unchecked fury. After the impressive and public hissing by the International community, as well as by numerous and influential international institutions dealing with human rights and freedoms, in particular regard to the imprisonment of the Archbishop Jovan (John) in July 2005, the Government of he Republic of Macedonia has now changed its tactics, but surely not its goal to persecute the members of the Ohrid Archbishopric.

Due to lack of arguments that would explain the international factors the imprisonment of the Archbishop Jovan (John) for the criminal offence “Instigation of ethnic and religious hatred, discord and intolerance”, the judiciary of the Republic of Macedonia which is far from being independent, and on the contrary being under immediate influence of the executive power, released the Archbishop from prison after eight months in spite he was convicted to serve two years and a half of imprisonment. So the state authorities whose aim is obviously not to resolve the problem of freedom of religion in the Republic of Macedonia, have changed the tactics thereof and now they do not persecute and try the Archbishop for issues related to his religion for they would provoke again the reaction of the international community, but upon charges for allegedly embezzlement of funds, striving to present him as being unworthy for his ministry.

It can be easily concluded by virtue of the last enforceable verdict sentenced to the Archbishop Jovan (John) by the Court of Appeals in Skopje regarding the criminal offence “embezzlement” referred to in Article 239 paragraph 4 in conjunction with paragraph 1 of the Penal Code of the Republic of Macedonia. The matter is about the following :

In June 2002, upon petition of the Archbishop Jovan (John), who was Metropolitan of Veles at that time, Mr. Trifun Kostovski, who is now the Mayor of Skopje, the capital of our country, donated EUR 57,000 for the reconstruction of the Church of St. Panteleymon in Veles. Due to the legislation changes regarding financial operations in the Republic of Macedonia made that year, the Church was not allowed to own a foreign currency bank account and therefore Mr. Trifun Kostovski agreed to transfer the moneys to the private foreign currency savings account of the Treasurer of the Veles Diocese, Reverend Toni Petrusevski. Only ten days after the moneys were transferred to the foreign currency account of the Treasurer, the Archbishop of Ohrid and Metropolitan of Skopje Jovan (John), then Metropolitan of Veles, had acceded to liturgical and canonical unity with the Serbian Orthodox Church in June 2002, with a result of his expelling in the street by the Police from the administrative building of the Veles Metropolis, where he lived, without any court warrant. All the personnel working with him got fired the very same day. That was the case also with the aforesaid Treasurer, Reverend Toni Petrusevski. None of them was allowed to access the building of the Metropolis. Thus the moneys donated by Mr. Trifun Kostovski for the reconstruction of the Church in Veles remained on the savings account of Reverend Toni Petrusevski.

Before the violent persecution by the Police during June 2002, His Beatitude had undertaken initiatives for implementation of the project planned with the contractors in regard to the reconstruction of the aforesaid Church. Certain contracts were signed, and even certain works were paid in advance. Projects according to which Mr. Trifun Kostovski donated the aforesaid moneys were drawn up. Subsequently, His Beatitude, as a contractual party, owed the subcontractors who had already had certain expenses for the preparations of the reconstruction of the Church. Let us remark that it was about the reconstruction of the supporting pillars of the Church, of the electrical installations, of the carpentry and of the tinsmith works, and about installation of central heating and new loudspeaker system in the Church.

Nothing was undertaken with regard to payment of the debts during July and August 2002 because His Beatitude was exiled and therefore the contact with the contractors was thus made difficult at the first place, and because it was a summer holidays season at the second place. However, in September 2002, the contractors, who had certain expenses, started to call His Beatitude demanding a part of them to be paid. The Macedonian Orthodox Church had informed them that the donation of Mr. Trifun Kostovski was still on the savings account of the former Treasurer, Reverend Toni Petrusevski.

In September 2002, His Beatitude had ordered in written the former Treasurer, Reverend Toni Petrusevski, to collect the amount of EUR 57,000 from his savings account aiming to pay the debts matured with those moneys. Reverend Petrusevski did so; however the Police arrested him the very next day. The first working day after that, His Beatitude had deposed the aforesaid amount of EUR 57,000 of the donation to the Court in Veles together with the three months’ interest of EUR 180. Reverend Petrusevski was released from temporary arrest the same day; nevertheless it was followed by a trial against him as the first defendant and against His Beatitude as the second defendant upon charges for the criminal offence ‘embezzlement’.

The Court had passed a rejecting verdict at the firs trial, without performance of presentation of evidence, due to lack of authorised plaintiff. The Macedonian Orthodox Church renounced penal pursuit yet during the investigative proceedings, and they had done so at the main hearing as well. When the court proceedings finished and the verdict was passed and delivered to the parties, the Public Prosecutor had made a forgery and inserted it in the file of the case as a proposal for prosecution by the Macedonian Orthodox Church. That proposal was not registered anywhere and there was no court seal impressed on it, nevertheless the Court of Appeals in Skopje, obviously acting upon orders of the executive power, returned the case for a retrial to the Court of First Instance in Veles, accepting the appeal lodged by the Public Prosecutor grounded on a forged document.

The following witnesses presented themselves on the retrial : The donor Mr. Trifun Kostovski, now the Mayor of Skopje and the representatives of the companies performing the works in the Church. All of them witnessed in favour of the Archbishop Jovan (John) and therefore the Court had passed an acquitting verdict on grounds of their testimonies and written evidence. However the Public Prosecutor lodged another appeal to the Court of Appeals in Skopje and it brought a decision to return the case for a retrial to the Court of First Instance again.

On the third trial, in spite of same evidence, the same judge who had passed an acquitting verdict twice, without any new evidence leading to a different verdict, pronounced a convicting verdict to a two years imprisonment for the Archbishop Jovan (John) and fifteen months for the first defendant, Reverend Toni Petrusevski. The Court of Appeals in Skopje has reduced the punishment and convicted the Archbishop Jovan (John) to one year of imprisonment as the second defendant, and the first defendant Reverend Toni Petrusevski to five months of imprisonment.

We consider as easy to conclude that this was yet another political trial. Because gaining some movable or immovable property for self or for somebody else is necessary for constitution of the criminal offence “embezzlement”. There was no such thing in this particular case. The moneys were deposed with the Court together with the interest the very moment when the Court asked for it. Nobody demanded those funds before collecting thereof from the bank account. Moreover, the Macedonian Orthodox Church could not be the aggrieved party in this case for it had never disposed of those funds. The only aggrieved party could have been the donor; however he had not brought any charges. So, there were neither grounds to convict the Archbishop according to evidence presented nor legal grounds for institution of proceedings. Truly indeed, the aforesaid was established by the Court of First Instance in Veles and therefore the rejecting verdict was passed at first, and then the acquitting one. However, when the executive power made pressure to the judiciary to convict the Archbishop, then the Court gave in.

We consider the extent of the influence of the political power on the judiciary of the Republic of Macedonia and of the corruption thereof to be notorious, therefore we would not get into a discussing it.

Yet we would like the following to be known : It is not the first time that great historical processes demand and give great sacrifices. This time it is the turn of the Archbishop of Ohrid and Metropolitan of Skopje kyr kyr Jovan (John). Fortunately, he sacrifices himself with a joy, and it is a sacrifice for the whole Church in fact. However, even if we do not want to recognize his sacrifice, or if we doubt his innocence, we must not let a totalitarian clique such as the Government of the Republic of Macedonia to violate the fundamental human rights in the middle of Europe, without a chance for the USA and the EU to do something about it. For even if we put aside the fact that the Archbishop is convicted unjustly for the second time, and that he is to serve imprisonment for the second time, the most terrifying thing is that after that, none of the members of the Ohrid Archbishopric would not be safe from imprisonment without any guilt.

Such insecurity will be present until recognition of the Ohrid Archbishopric by the Republic of Macedonia As one of the religious communities in this country. Hence, this is not only an appeal for the unjustly convicted Archbishop Jovan (John). He had persevered one unjust verdict already, and he would persevere this one, too. A year behind the prison walls will pass as a day, but who can be sure that the political persecution would not continue, and moreover, who can be sure that the political persecution would stop with the Archbishop Jovan (John) and not spread to the other members of the Ohrid Archbishopric? He was acquitted from charges for a criminal offence for two times and convicted even on third trial. The Court of First Instance has acquitted him from other charges for another criminal offence, more serious than the previous one. But after all that has happened, who can be sure that the Court of Appeals will not modify this latest acquittal verdict upon political directives by the executive power. Hereby we want to point out to the severity of living under threats of new criminal charges for five years now for the Archbishop Jovan (John). And after all these, is it possible not to ask ourselves whether there is a guarantor that all these persecutions would stop with him ? If nothing would be undertaken and the authorities of the Republic of Macedonia would not be warned not to rig political trials, tomorrow it would be the turn of some other Bishop of the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric, or of someone from the clergy thereof, or of someone from the laity thereof. On the other hand, more than two years have passed since the Ohrid archbishopric had filed a request to be registered as a religious community. The Supreme Court still has not answered the lawsuit instituted against the Republic of Macedonia in regard to not registering of the Ohrid Archbishopric. The matter here is about an extremely illegal chaos making the citizens utmostly insecure, and we find that it also makes instable the whole region.

Therefore we ask You and beg of You to do anything in Your power for the purpose of gaining the status of legal entity in the Republic of Macedonia for the Ohrid Archbishopric. We think and we hope that we do not demand too much with this. The matter is about fundamental human rights and freedoms, being denied to the members of the Orthodox Ohrid Archbishopric in the Republic of Macedonia.


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