The government engaged with legal experts from religious communities on addressing the absence of a mechanism for religious groups to register. Minority religious groups continued to experience problems obtaining property for churches and cemeteries. Several long-standing disputes over ownership of religious property remained unresolved. Police detained BIK religious figures on criminal charges of abetting or committing criminal offenses against the constitutional order and security of the country and incitement of hatred. Police detained an SOC priest after a traffic offense.
On September 17, the KP arrested eight BIK-appointed imams on charges of abetting or committing criminal offenses against the constitution and security of the country, including incitement of hatred. Some of those arrested were charged with encouraging and organizing young people to fight in Syria and Iraq with terrorist organizations. Media reported the investigation targeted imams from Prishtine/Pristina, Gjilan/Gnjilane, Prizren, Kacanik, Hani I Elezit/Han Elez, and Dragash/Dragas. Four other suspects who were not BIK employees but claimed to be imams were also arrested. The BIK expressed concern over the arrests to the media, but stressed no one was above the law. At the end of the year, only imam Zekirja Qazimi of the Al Kudus Mosque in Gjilan/Gnjilane remained in custody. Other suspects were provisionally released or placed under house arrest while their cases were being investigated.
SOC officials reported the KP detained SOC Priest Stevo Mitric from the Church of Saint Nicholas in Prishtine/Pristina on May 22. The KP issued Mitric, who was dressed in SOC religious garments, a citation for speeding, then handcuffed and arrested him when he requested the citation be issued in Serbian as allowed by law. The KP detained Mitric for four hours and reportedly insulted him because he was a Kosovo Serb and an SOC priest. A Suhareke/Suva Reka judge ruled Mitric was entitled to a citation issued in Serbian, but also fined him 150 euros ($182) for “obstructing a police officer on duty.” Mitric appealed the ruling. The SOC said it had received no information regarding the complaint Mitric filed against the KP.
At an OSCE-sponsored conference on October 30, leaders from the BIK, SOC, the Catholic Church, the Evangelical (Protestant) Church, and the Jewish Community described the challenges created by the lack of a mechanism for religious groups to register and obtain legal status. The leaders criticized the government for its failure to complete a draft law amending the Law on Religious Freedom. None of these religious groups had agreed to register as NGOs, as permitted by the law until 2009. Although many groups said they had found alternative methods to conduct their business affairs, some reported difficulties in registering property and vehicles, opening bank accounts, and paying taxes on employee salaries. Some religious communities were able to open bank accounts and the Protestant Church received a tax accounting number from the government in order to pay taxes, but some communities said it was still difficult to undertake basic financial tasks.
On November 10, the prime minister’s legal office met with experts from religious communities to address the absence of a legal mechanism for religious groups to register. The meeting discussed a March 25 Council of Europe Venice Commission report that included more than 100 suggestions and recommendations on the draft law. The government accepted several of the expert group’s recommendations to amend the draft law before opening it for public comment.
Some school officials applied an administrative directive previously issued by the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology prohibiting primary and secondary students from wearing headscarves on school property; others did not. The ombudsperson’s office received one report of a school forbidding students to attend classes while wearing headscarves. According to the BIK, public schools expelled eight students for wearing headscarves while attending classes. Administrators in the Gjilan/Gnjilane municipality, however, allowed students to wear headscarves in schools.
Religious groups said government authorities did not take steps to ensure municipalities treated religious organizations equally on property issues, in particular with regard to churches and cemeteries. In October the leaders of all major religious communities asked the government to provide sufficient new cemetery space for all denominations and to care for existing cemeteries that had fallen into disrepair.
Protestants said they experienced endemic and long-term institutional discrimination by the central and municipal governments by not receiving permission to establish their own cemeteries or build new churches anywhere in the country. Protestants said municipalities regularly ignored their requests for dedicated cemetery space. They said in Prishtine/Pristina and Gjakove/Djakovica this resulted in imams performing funeral services for Protestants in Muslim-controlled municipal cemeteries and requesting payment for such services. The BIK denied non-Muslims were forced to have Muslim ceremonies or Muslim officiants at their burials, or that they ever sought payment from non-Muslims. The Protestant community stated 14 municipalities paid BIK imams to officiate at burials even though there was no statute permitting such payments.
A public hearing organized by the Prishtine/Pristina municipal authorities in October did not resolve a request by Protestants for dedicated space within the city cemetery.
Representatives of the Messiah Evangelical Church in Prishtine/Pristina said municipal authorities from Vetevendosje refused to issue a building permit for a house of worship, despite the church’s work with municipal engineers to ensure the property and plans complied with legal requirements.
Prime Minister Thaci issued a statement on May 1 calling the unfinished Church of Christ the Savior, situated adjacent to Prishtine/Pristina University, “Milosevic’s monument” in reference to the former Serbian dictator. On April 21, Minister for Environment and Spatial Planning Dardan Gashi suggested the church could be demolished because it was “an illegal object.” The SOC Diocese of Raska-Prizren criticized both statements. Several ethnic Albanian academics and observers proposed the church be converted into a museum of the “Holocaust against Kosovo Albanians.”
Decan/Decani municipal authorities and Privatization Agency of Kosovo representatives continued their appeal of a court judgment upholding the Visoki Decani Monastery’s legal ownership of disputed agricultural land. SOC officials sought dialogue with government and local officials to resolve the matter, because they stated they considered the agricultural land critical to the monastery’s self-sustainability and future security. The court issued no ruling on the appeal by year’s end.
The IMC helped ensure the Law on the Historic Center of Prizren was implemented, permitting the SOC to register its land. The IMC brokered a compromise to allow a building constructed unlawfully in the SPZ in Fushe Kosove/Kosovo Polje to operate as a warehouse. In the case of land expropriated from the SOC’s Zociste Monastery by the Rahovec/Orahovac municipality, the IMC facilitated an agreement by which the government and the municipality would finance a new wall for the monastery. On September 23, Deputy Mayor of Skenderaj/Srbica Fadil Nura visited the SOC’s Devic Monastery to open a new road to the monastery, the first visit by an official from the municipality to the monastery.
In April the MESP delivered an administrative instruction to guide the Rahovec/Orahovac municipality’s implementation of the 2012 Law on the Village of Hoce e Madhe/Velika Hoca to protect the village’s 13 medieval SOC churches. A council required by law to protect these churches was not formed by the end of the year.
On April 24, the Basic Court in Prishtine/Pristina issued a decision in favor of Xhabir Hamiti, stating his removal as the dean of the Faculty of Islamic Studies (FIS) by university officials in 2010 had been unlawful. Hamiti said he had been removed for criticizing the BIK’s interference at the FIS. The court did not provide any legal remedy or specify whether Hamiti should be reinstated.
The government funded Islamic education in BIK madrassahs in Prishtine/Pristina, Prizren, and Gjilan/Gnjilane. No other religious organizations received government funding for religious education.
Kosovo Serbs attended public schools that followed a curriculum designed by the government of Serbia, but coordinated with the Kosovo education ministry, which included the option of religious or civic education with instruction in the Serbian language. Most Kosovo Serbs elected to receive Serbian Orthodox religious education. The Serbian government funded the salaries of teachers in Serbian-language schools, for both academic and religious instructors. The Kosovo government supplemented the salaries of some teachers in Serbian-language schools.
The KP closed 14 Islamic charities during the year under instructions from the Ministry of Public Administration. The closed charities included organizations such as the Association for Culture, Upbringing, and Education and Al-Waqf al Islami. The organizations reportedly supported extremism and encouraged Muslims to travel to Syria and Iraq to fight for militias.
A number of religious groups criticized the national census as unrepresentative. The SOC cited the lack of inclusion of Orthodox Serbian residents in the north, who had boycotted the census. The Protestant Church stated its members were undercounted because census takers automatically classified Protestant citizens as Muslims without soliciting respondents’ explicit answers or, in some cases, over their objections.
President Jahjaga, Prime Minister Thaci, and opposition leaders condemned an October 13 incident where unknown perpetrators spray-painted anti-Christian and anti-Serb graffiti on the Visoki Decani Monastery, which also glorified the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant , the Albanian National Army , and the Kosovo Liberation Army. Following the incident, Deputy Prime Minister Slobodan Petrovic, Decani Mayor Rasim Selmanaj, Kosovo Force (KFOR) commander Major General Francesco Figliuolo, and the regional KP Commander visited the monastery to condemn the vandalism and coordinate an investigation. On October 16, Minister of Internal Affairs Bajram Rexhepi said he could not exclude the possibility the graffiti had been painted by SOC monks or KFOR soldiers. The SOC protested the minister’s statement and expressed concern that authorities were not taking the investigation seriously enough. The BIK condemned the vandalism as unacceptable. On October 21, BIK Head Imam Sabri Bajgora met with the abbot of the monastery, Father Sava Janjic, and said the vandalism was harmful to ethnic tolerance. KFOR continued to provide security at the monastery.
The KP’s Unit for Specialized Protection of Cultural and Religious Heritage Sites provided 24-hour security at 28 sites around the country to ensure the functioning of these institutions. Despite this support, theft and vandalism continued at SOC sites.
As part of its Interfaith Kosovo program, the government undertook numerous initiatives to promote religious tolerance. The Interfaith Kosovo website promoted increased dialogue among religious communities, civil society, and the public. In October the website was hacked and service was blocked for several weeks, but later restored.
The government organized the second annual Interfaith Conference on May 26, in Prizren, bringing together religious leaders from the country’s five primary religious groups to increase interfaith dialogue and mutual respect. President Jahjaga and Mufti Ternava spoke in support of tolerance. Father Sava Janjic thanked Prizren municipal officials for protecting the local SOC seminary, but said few SOC members felt safe enough to return to the area. Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj announced Kosovo would establish an interreligious dialogue center in Prizren as part of its efforts to institutionalize religious tolerance.