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Greece Sentences Macedonian Priest to Three Month Prison Term

May 25, 2004

On 11-5-2004, Archimandrite Nikodimos Tsarknias was tried before the Aridea Criminal Court sitting at first instance and composed of a single judge (Monomelis Plimmelodikeio) on charges of establishing and operating a temple without the authorization of the competent authority, which pursuant to the provisions of Law no. 1363/1938 is the local ecclesiastical authority, i.e. the local Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church of Greece and the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs.

During the hearing of the case, the defense submitted a plea that the relevant law, which is pre-World War II in its basis, is unconstitutional and contravenes the provisions of article 13 of the Constitution, article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights, as well as the relevant legislation of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Pursuant to the above, the dependence of the operation of a temple on the authorization of the Administrative Authority, which, in fact, does not only examine the evidence of legitimacy but also the evidence of advisability of the application, and on the additional co-requisite authorization of the local Metropolitan, constitutes a violation of the freedom of religious worship and is contrary to both the provisions of the European Convention of Human Rights and those of the Greek Constitution of 1975, which abrogates any previous contrary law or ordinance.

The Court threw out the objection, judging that there was no contradiction to the Constitution, and sentenced the cleric to a three (3)-month prison term given that there was a violation of the relevant law.

It should be noted that even though the defense witnesses refrained from confirming that the building was operating as a place of worship, this was confirmed by the cleric himself, who highlighted the need to perform the liturgy in the Macedonian language, which is the native tongue spoken by a large portion of the regionís inhabitants.

This judgment comes after the censure of Greece by the ECHR in the Manoussakis case (application no. 18748/1991) and the corresponding censure of Moldova in the case of the Metropolitan Church of Bessarabia (application no. 45701/1999) in which it was decided that the request for authorized operation constitutes a non-permissible violation of the right to religious freedom.

An appeal has been lodged against the judgement.

Archimandrite Nikodimos Tsarknias

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