BELGRADE (Reuters) - The Serbian Orthodox Church has dismissed a priest running a treatment center for drug addicts after videos showed patients being kicked and punched.
Bishop Artemije, in charge of the Rasko-Prizrenska diocese, said he ordered an inquiry into the activities of priest Branislav Peranovic at the Crna Reka center, about 300 kilometers (187 miles) southwest of the capital Belgrade.
“We will shut down the facility if the reports about beatings and violence persist,” Artemije said in a statement.
The bishop said he decided against closing it “after numerous pleadings by the patients and their parents.”
“We are also asking state authorities to investigate the matter and punish those responsible,” the statement said.
Last week, the Holy Synod, the church’s top body, asked Artemije to shut down the center that houses about 200 patients near the southwestern city of Novi Pazar.
Two separate videos made public by Belgrade’s Vreme weekly and B92 TV showed one of the centre’s employees and Peranovic repeatedly beating patients with a shovel, and kicking and hitting them inside a room decorated with icons.
The government’s human rights watchdog Sasa Jankovic has filed criminal charges against the center and Peranovic.
This week Serbian health authorities said the Crna Reka center was not registered to undertake drug rehabilitation.
Peranovic told B92 TV the beatings were a “hard and unwanted, but necessary part of treatment.”
He said that on admission, patients and their parents had to sign a written consent approving the use of violence “for therapeutic purposes.”
Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Robert Woodward