Mass arrests in Montenegro after protests against priests' detention

By bne IntelliNews May 14, 2020

Montenegro’s police have arrested dozens of people who protested against the detention of several Serbian Orthodox priests who held a religious procession despite the ban on public gatherings.

The protests broke out on May 13 and turned violent in the towns of Pljevlja and Niksic where the police used tear gas and protesters threw stones.

26 police officers were injured during the clashes with one of them hospitalised.

On May 14 the police also arrested two people on suspicion of attempting to organise a protest in the capital Podgorica.

According to the police, some protesters carried knives and bottles and started the violence against the police unprovoked, broadcaster RTCG reported. Apart from injuring policemen, they have also broke vehicles and equipment.

In Niksic, the police have so far arrested 32 people for the clashes, while in Pljevlja nine people were arrested and three were detained in Podgorica.

A few people were also detained in other towns as all public gatherings are banned due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in the country.

Tensions between Montenegrin state authorities and the Serbian Orthodox Church have risen recently. At the end of December the parliament in Podgorica adopted the church law that, according to its critics, may strip the Serbian Orthodox Church of hundreds of religious sites in Montenegro, including medieval monasteries and churches.

This provoked a series of protests in Montenegro and in Serbia and worsened the relations between the two governments at the time. Serbia objected to the current arrests too but refrained from demanding the release of those detained.

In mid-February, Montenegro’s Prime Minister Dusko Markovic met the Serbian Orthodox Church’s top bishop in the country, Metropolitan Amfilohije, to discuss disagreements. After Amfilohije has submitted a list of proposed amendments to the law to Markovic, they agreed to a comprehensive review of the law.

Montenegro seceded peacefully from its loose union with Serbia in 2006 following a referendum. Two-thirds of its population of around 620,000 is Orthodox Christian and the main church is the Serbian Orthodox Church.

A separate Montenegrin Orthodox Church was set up in 1993 but has not been recognised by other Orthodox Christian communities to date. The local branch of the Serbian Orthodox Church controls most holy sites, some of which are popular among tourists and bring in significant revenue.

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