EGMR: Forthcoming judgment on Thursday 16 November 2017 – “Orthodox Ohrid Archdiocese (Greek-Orthodox Ohrid Archdiocese of the Peć Patriarchy)” v. “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (no. 3532/07)

The applicant, “Orthodox Ohrid Archdiocese”, since renamed “Greek-Orthodox Ohrid Archdiocese of the Peć Patriarchy”, is a non-registered religious association. The case concerns its complaint about the national authorities’ refusal to register it.

In 2003 the applicant association constituted its own Holy Synod and appointed a former bishop and member of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, Mr J. Vraniškovski, as its President. Mr Vraniškovski, who had previously publicly announced that he was prepared for canonical union with the Serbian Orthodox Church, had been dismissed for violating his oath to safeguard the Macedonian Church’s unity and Constitution. The Serbian Orthodox Church then appointed him exarch of the Peć Archbishop and the Patriach of Serbia.

There ensued two sets of proceedings for registration of the applicant association, the first under the name “Orthodox Ohrid Archdiocese” and the second under the name “Greek-Orthodox Ohrid Archdiocese of the Peć Patriarchy”. The applicant association specified in these proceedings that it would operate as an autonomous religious entity under the canonical jurisdiction of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Both applications for registration were dismissed, essentially on formal grounds. The authorities also cited two other grounds, namely: that the applicant association had been set up by a foreign church or State, making it ineligible for registration; and that its intended names were problematic. In particular the intended names were too similar to the “Macedonian Orthodox-Ohrid Archdiocese” which had the “historical, religious, moral and substantive right” to use the name “Ohrid Archdiocese”. Lastly, the authorities concluded that the applicant association had in reality intended to become a parallel religious entity to the Macedonian Orthodox Church.

Founding members of the applicant association lodged constitutional appeals in both sets of proceedings, also without success. In particular, the Constitutional Court found in 2009 that it had no jurisdiction to decide on the appeal and that it had, in any case, been submitted outside the timelimit. Similarly, in 2010 it found that it could not examine the appeal on the merits as the appellant had failed to comply with the formal statutory requirements before the competent courts.

Relying on Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association) read in the light of Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience, and religion), the applicant association allege that the refusal to register it should be seen in context, in particular the negative campaign in the media following its creation, including statements by the country’s political and religious leaders, and the alleged persecution of Mr Vraniškovski. It argues that this revealed an agenda aimed at preventing it from exercising its religious rights. It also alleges under Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) and Article 1 of Protocol No. 12 (general prohibition of discrimination) that the members of its association are disadvantaged as compared to members of registered religious groups.

Press release ECHR 330 (2017) 10/11/2017

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