Religious groups complained about government actions with regard to property restitution, the registration process (primarily for the SPC), and the denial of visas and residency permits for clergy members.
Major religious groups stated that the law regulating their legal status was outdated and inadequate. During the year, the government began work on writing a new Law on the Legal Status of Religious Communities, but some religious communities complained that they had not been included in the drafting process.
The Ministry of Human and Minority Rights provided some funding to religious groups to supplement their members’ contributions. All registered religious communities were eligible to apply for this funding. The Commission of the Ministry for Protection of Human and Minority Rights decided, at its discretion, which proposals should receive financing based on an established set of criteria and available funds. Religious groups used government funding primarily to provide social and medical insurance for clergy and to restore shrines and holy sites. Religious communities also received in-kind assistance from other government ministries and from local governments.
Some religious groups voiced dissatisfaction with the amount and type of assistance received from the government because, they stated, only the largest religious groups received funding. Other groups complained that they had not been informed about the criteria established to request funds. Throughout the year, the CPC received 55,575 euros ($75,550), the Muslim community 54,800 euros ($75,482), the SPC 43,567 euros ($ 60,010), the Jewish community 5,260 euros ($ 21,019), and the Catholic Church 23,498 euros ($ 32,366).
The Ministry of Interior denied permits for temporary residency to several dozen resident SPC clergy, saying that the SPC had not properly registered with the Ministry of Interior as an official religious group. The SPC stated, however, that it had submitted a request for registration. The SPC complained that the government’s delay in acting on its registration request was politically motivated. According to press reports, the SPC’s Metropolitan Amfilohije had sent a letter to the minister of interior, as opposed to filing the proper forms at the Ministry of Interior.
On August 14, the Ministry of Interior for the fourth time denied a residency permit to the rector of the SPC’s Podgorica parish, Velibor Dzomic, despite his presence in the country for 19 years, and following a third Administrative Court decision overturning the ministry’s prior denials of a temporary residence permit to Dzomic. According to the ministry, Dzomic did not receive a permit because the National Security Agency concluded his presence “jeopardized national security, peace, and order.” Dzomic remained in the country at year’s end.
The SPC stated that the government’s denial of visas and threats of deportation of some of its foreign clergy constituted religious and political discrimination by the Ministry of Interior. The ministry denied any discrimination, stating that its actions were lawful because the SPC had not properly registered with it and had not filed the normal petition to obtain legal status. On June 11, the Ministry of Interior ordered the expulsion of SPC priest Aleksandar Papic from Herceg Novi on “national security grounds.” Papic filed an appeal and remained in the country at year’s end.
The government started negotiating a status agreement with the SPC, similar to ones it signed with the Islamic and Jewish community and the Holy See. The agreement, once completed, would define the legal status and rights of SPC as a religious organization, its clergy members, property rights, and its relation to the state. The SPC, however, criticized the government, stating that it prolonged the negotiating process.
On August 6, the CPC criticized the government, accusing it of favoring the SPC over the CPC and other religious groups. The CPC stated that it could not hold religious services at Montenegrin shrines because these had been occupied by the SPC. CPC Metropolitan Mihailo stated that senior Serbian and Montenegrin government officials’ attendance at the celebration of the 800th anniversary of the Djurdjevi Stupovi monastery near Berane on August 3, and their participation at other SPC events, were indicative of an official bias in favor of the SPC.
On January 12, the SPC filed a civil suit against Speaker of Parliament Ranko Krivokapic, representative of the Social Democrat Party Mirko Stanic, and head of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church (CPC) Mihailo for hate speech and insults directed against the SPC and its clergy. The SPC complained that Krivokapic spearheaded discrimination and property seizures against the SPC. The SPC criticized the State Prosecutor’s Office for “selective justice” and failing to act promptly when charges were filed against incumbent state officials and the CPC. On March 11, SPC Metropolitan Amfilohije wrote to the EU, objecting to what he said were Krivokapic’s “defamatory comments” about the SPC to European Parliament representatives.
Some Albanian leaders complained that religious issues of importance to them suffered from a lack of attention due to the focus given to the SPC-CPC dispute.
On April 25, authorities registered the new “Montenegrin Catholic Church.” The head of the Roman Catholic Church diocese in Kotor, Don Pavao Medac, said the registration was a “mockery” of the Roman Catholic Church’s name and called on Ivan Zankovic, the founder of the Montenegrin Catholic Church, to “repent.”
On May 25, police arrested 22 Albanian Muslims after they tried to stop the construction of an Orthodox church in the village of Martinaj near Gusinje in the north of the country. While the SPC stated that it owned the land where the construction was taking place, local Albanian Muslims disputed the SPC’s ownership and demanded that the construction cease. Local ethnic Albanian parties expressed displeasure with the arrests. The government stated that the police were enforcing a court ruling that permitted the SPC to build on the property.
In September the misdemeanor court in Cetinje acquitted an ethnic Montenegrin restaurant owner who had been charged with discrimination based on national and religious affiliation after he had ejected Serbian Orthodox customers, including a nun, from his restaurant in 2012. The SPC criticized the court’s ruling.
The president of the Bosniak Cultural Community in Rozaje, Hazbija Kalac, condemned police action in stopping the motorcade of the head of the Serbian Islamic Community Mufti Muamer Zukorlic on August 6. According to Kalac, the police’s intention was to intimidate Bosniaks.
In March the Ombudsman for Human Rights Protection published a special report on prison and detention conditions that noted an absence of adequate detention cells to accomodate special religious rituals, regardless of religious denomination. Some Muslim detainees complained they had not been provided food in accordance with their faith. In October authorities provided additional prison space for the observance of religious rituals.