Church urges closure of Serbian drug rehab center
BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Serbia’s Orthodox Church said Saturday that a drug rehabilitation center run by its priests should be closed after a video was released that allegedly shows a patient being severely kicked and beaten by a staff member there.
The video posted this week by the Vreme magazine shows a young man – an apparent patient at the rehab center – being beaten with a shovel and heavily punched and kicked in the face by a man wearing brass knuckles. The beating takes place in a room decorated with icons – traditional Orthodox Christian religious paintings.
The magazine did not say where it had obtained the video, which it said had been taken at the Crna Reka (Black River) rehabilitation center in southern Serbia. Located on Crna Reka monastery’s land, it has been run by Serbian Orthodox priests since 2005 and backed by one of its prominent bishops, Artemije.
The center has been known for its strict methods, isolated location and poor living conditions. Earlier media reports have shown rehab patients carrying out daily duties in total isolation from the outside world.
The priests at the facility have said beatings are a necessary part of the therapy and are carried out with the consent of patients’ parents.
Branislav Peranovic, the head of the center, said Friday that “a heavy hand is necessary.” He told B92 television: “Whoever has a junkie in the house knows what I am talking about.”
The Health Ministry said Friday that it sent an inspection team to investigate the center’s methods and that it does not have a license for treating drug addicts.
The ministry did not say if the center would be closed. But the Serbian Orthodox Church’s Holy Synod said in a statement Saturday that it was “astonished and appalled at brutal violence” documented in the video.
The Synod said that violence it showed was contrary to the spirit of the Church, and it urged the bishop who set up the center to shut it down immediately. The Synod also demanded that the priests running it be punished.
The video shows two men dressed in civilian clothes involved in the beating, one doing the attack and the other holding the victim, who falls onto the floor of the room at one point.
Most Serbians belong to the country’s Orthodox Church.