For the second year in a row, Kosovo authorities have banned a religious ceremony at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Priština

On the occasion of this year’s celebration of the Feast of the Ascension of Christ on May 24, the Diocese of Raška-Prizren of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) was once again prohibited by Kosovo authorities from accessing its church and holding a religious ceremony, without any legal basis, continuing serious violations of religious rights and freedoms of the SOC in Kosovo.

Several days before the Ascension Feast, the Diocese of Raška-Prizren, with the best intentions, informed the Kosovo police about the planned religious ceremony at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Priština on May 24, for the purpose of securing the religious gathering and organizing vehicle parking. On Wednesday, May 23, the our parish in Priština was informally, and only verbally, informed by the Kosovo police that the Serbian Orthodox Church was prohibited from serving the Ascension Day liturgy in our Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Priština. Our priest was verbally informed that the Kosovo authorities are banning the performance of religious ceremonies in our cathedral in Priština “as long as the lawsuit brought by the University of Priština against the Diocese of Raška-Prizren continues,” as well as due to alleged and unspecified security reasons. No written decision was handed to the priest on this occasion.

Considering one of the excuses for the ban on using the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Priština is the existence of a lawsuit that the University of Priština initiated against the Diocese of Raška-Prizren in 2018 (which has since been stalled due to a series of procedural reasons), it is important to emphasize that before a binding and final court decision, the legal owner of the property, and especially of a religious object, cannot be denied access and use of a place of worship anywhere in the democratic world. According to the international principle of “presumption of innocence,” which applies to both criminal and property issues, the existence of a dispute cannot be a reason to prevent the free use of property which is legally still listed in the cadastre as the property of the SOC, and especially not for violating the statutory rights to freedom of assembly and religious ceremonies clearly defined in Kosovo’s legislation. Otherwise, anyone could arbitrarily dispute property and violate basic religious and human rights with false accusations. Therefore, according to all international standards, SOC property is inviolable until a court process potentially proves otherwise and all legal remedies are exhausted.

We wish to remind that this issue has been highlighted in the 2022 United States State Department Report on Religious Freedom in Kosovo, which indicates an existence of systematic violation of the legally regulated religious rights of the SOC. Meanwhile, the Kosovo police have failed to provide a written response to the concerns raised by the Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC). Moreover, they have not issued a written prohibition on worship that is substantiated by any judicial decision. This is primarily because there are no valid legal foundations for issuing such a prohibition. Consequently, the ban was merely articulated verbally, implying the risk of a potential incident if the Church were to exercise its constitutionally protected right to freedom of worship.

The repeated prohibition of our Church’s Liturgy, coupled with the overall climate and daily attempts to further undermine our rights, reiterate the necessity for the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo to have enhanced legal protection. This is crucial in order to prevent the future misuse of rights and laws, especially religious freedoms, by Kosovo institutions. By banning this gathering, refusal to implement a number of legal and judicial obligations towards the SOC, and denying access to clergy and believers to some religious sites in the territory of Kosovo, a serious and escalating situation of religious, ethnic, and legal discrimination is unequivocally demonstrated.

On this occasion, the Diocese of Raška-Prizren is voicing its strongest protest against the flagrant violation of our religious rights and the abuse of laws by the Kosovo police, who are law-bound to ensure freedom of assembly, worship and the security of religious sites. The Diocese is committed to utilizing all legal avenues to resolve this issue in strict accordance with the law.