Major religious groups stated the law regulating their legal status was outdated and inadequate, attributing the problem to the fact that the law was drafted for conditions existing during the time when there was a Yugoslav government. During the year, the government continued work on writing a new law on the legal status of religious communities, but some religious communities said they had not been included in the drafting process. There were also registration issues, and the government denied visas to SOC clergy on the basis that the SOC was not properly registered. The government and the SOC continued to contend over property issues and there was no restitution of property to major religious groups during the year.
The MHMR provided the names of the government-nominated members of the working group to draft the new law on the legal status of religious groups, but none of those individuals were religious community representatives. The SOC called the government officials responsible for drafting the new law “incompetent.” The SOC Legal Council (Budimlje-Niksic Diocese), headed by Bishop Joanikije, said the MHMR’s decision not to include representatives of religious groups in drafting the law was an example of discrimination.
The government issued a statement in the pro-government newspaper Pobjeda in July on the need to adopt the new law on the status of religious communities, saying “representatives of religious communities have engaged in politicking and their shrines were used for political pre-electoral campaigns.” The government further said religious communities expressed their ideas through related nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) with a “recognizable political flavor.” The SOC, the ICM, and the Roman Catholic Church said the government’s statement was unfounded.
During the year, the MHMR formed separate joint commissions to implement the agreements on legal status for the Islamic, Jewish, and Catholic communities. The SOC commended the formation of these commissions, but criticized the ministry for not making an effort to sign an agreement on legal status with the SOC.
In March the Ministry of Interior denied temporary residency permits to nine SOC priests from a monastery near Pljevlja because it said the SOC had not properly registered as an official religious group. The SOC stated this was a “politically motivated attack” on the church and the SOC did not need to register because it had been working within the territory administered by the government longer than the existence of the state.
On December 16, the Ministry of Interior for the seventh time denied a residency permit to Velibor Dzomic, the rector of the SOC’s Podgorica parish who had lived in the country for 19 years. At the end of May the Administrative Court overturned a previous denial by the ministry. Minister of Interior Rasko Konjevic stated that despite the Administrative Court’s decision, the ministry could not issue a residency permit to Dzomic because the Agency for National Security had concluded his presence “jeopardized national security, peace, and order.” Dzomic remained in the country at year’s end without legal documentation.
The SOC stated that the government’s denial of visas and threats of deportation of some of its foreign clergy constituted religious and political discrimination. The Ministry of Interior said its actions were lawful, because the SOC had not properly registered to obtain legal status. The SOC stated it did not need to register because it had already registered under Yugoslav law and had existed in the country’s territory before the existence of the current state.
On August 19, for the fifth year in a row, police cited security concerns and banned members of both the MOC and the SOC from celebrating the transfiguration of Christ at the Church of Christ the Transfiguration at Ivanova Korita near the historical capital of Cetinje.
Authorities did not act to remove the metal structure SOC church, which the army of the former Union of Serbia and Montenegro had erected on the summit of Mt. Rumija in 2005 prior to the country regaining its independence. The Construction Industry Inspectorate had previously declared the church construction illegal. The SOC continued to express its readiness to legalize the presence of the church on Mt. Rumija. In 2013 the MOC filed a legal case against the government for failing to implement a 2005 decision by the Ministry of Tourism and Sustainable Development to tear down the church. The case was still pending at year’s end.
The Administration for Protection of Cultural Heritage stated the SOC had violated cultural heritage laws when it altered, remodeled, or restored original facades and interiors on a number of religious shrines, including the Ostrog monastery located 40 kilometers northwest of Podgorica. The administration said all such projects required a valid permit. The SOC called the administration’s statements “ill-judged,” saying without renovation the facilities would go to ruin.
During the year no religious group regained ownership of properties for which it had filed claims, nor did the government offer compensation for any properties. The government continued its policy of not seeking to adopt legislation providing for restitution of religious properties expropriated by the former communist Yugoslav government.
The MHMR provided funding to religious groups for specific renovation projects and to provide social and medical insurance for clergy. All registered religious communities were eligible to apply for this funding. The MHMR criteria for deciding which proposals should receive financing included whether the projects concerned religious shrines, education, or culture. Religious communities also received in-kind assistance from other government ministries and from local governments. According to the press, some religious groups were dissatisfied with the amount and type of assistance received from the government and stated they had not been informed of the selection criteria for the funds. During the year, the MOC received 55,564 euros ($67,596), the ICM 53, 373 euros ($64,931), the SOC 51,262 euros ($62,363), the Jewish community 17,500 euros ($21,290), and the Catholic Church 22,300 euros ($27,129).
Following the start of government efforts to draft “foreign fighters” legislation, representatives of the Islamic Community stated the government would “unjustly punish” members of the Islamic Community if the criminal code amendments only provided criminal sanctions against those individuals who fought for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
According to NGOs, authorities respected the rights of prisoners to carry out religious practices, communicate with clergy, and have access to a diet conforming to their religious customs.
The trial for vandalism of MOC Metropolitan Mihailo and MOC supporters Dragan Pavlovic and Jovan Tomovic continued in the Podgorica basic court. The SOC had sued MOC Metropolitan Mihailo and his supporters for their purported involvement in the desecration of the Church of Saint Archangel Mihailo in Rogami in August 2011.
On September 29, police arrested four minors for pelting the local SOC church with stones in the Muslim populated area of Rozaje, but church officials stated they did not want to press charges. The minors apologized to the local priest and promised to pay for damages.