Nikšić, Montenegro, February 2, 2023
His Eminence Metropolitan Joanikije of Montenegro and eight priests from Nikšić were finally acquitted today of COVID-related charges from 2020.
The Metropolitan, then Bishop of Budimlja and Nikšić, and the clerics were arrested on Montenegrin authorities detain bishop and seven clergymen after thousands gather to celebrate St. Basil of OstrogAfter being questioned at the security center in Nikšić, the hierarchs and clergy were taken to the Public Prosecutor’s Office at about 2:00 in the morning, where they were taken into custody after more than 2 hours of questioning. The Prosecutor decided to detain the clergy for up to 72 hours.
“>May 12, 2020, for participating in a prayer procession with tens of thousands of believers in honor of St. Basil of Ostrog during the period of COVID quarantine.
The case was continually delayed, until the court in Nikšić finally acquitted His Eminence and the priests today, reports the Metropolis of Montenegro.
Lawyer Sava Kostić argued that the measures to suppress the spread of the coronavirus had no legal force because no state of emergency was ever declared in Montenegro. Further, neither Met. Joanikije nor the priests with him initiated the procession that day in honor of St. Basil, and the first known cases of COVID in Nikšić came more than a month later.
Met. Joanikije also addressed the court, saying that as a hierarch he did the only thing he could do—to go out to meet those who had come out of piety and love for St. Basil. As he explained, the procession actually helped the huge crowds disperse in a more orderly manner.
Recall that the procession for St. Basil happened in the period when the Montenegrin were processing en masse every week to protect their holy sites from the government, which had declared for itself the right to seize Church property.
He also noted that political rallies were being held at the same time, but the police the prosecutor’s office didn’t go after any of their participants.
One of the arrested priests, Archpriest-Stavrophor Boban Jokić, emphasized that being a priest is both an honor and a responsibility.
“Even though the verdict the judge will pronounce is important to us, the verdict of the people is much more important to us, and the people had their say on that day and on other days later,” said Fr. Boban.
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