May 23, 2009 / 6:43 PM / 10 years ago

Serbian church to close drug centre over beating

By Aleksandar Vasovic

BELGRADE, May 23 (Reuters) - The Serbian Orthodox Church ordered the closure on Saturday of a treatment centre for drug abusers after a video showed a patient being beaten with a shovel, punched and kicked as part of supposed treatment.

The Holy Synod, the church's top body, asked Bishop Artemije, the head of the local diocese, to order an immediate shutdown of the facility and "launch proceedings against those responsible in line with church's laws and regulations."

A video posted on the website of Belgrade's Vreme weekly (vreme.com/view.php?id=865307) showed one of the centre's employees repeatedly beating a man with a shovel, kicking him and hitting him with a knuckleduster -- brass knuckles -- in the face inside a room decorated with icons.

The video also shows another two men holding the victim.

A man with the shovel hits the victim several times and he screams in pain. The victim is then positioned upright and repeatedly hit karate style in the head, elbow and feet with brass knuckles.

The victim, whose head hits religious icons on the wall during the beating, eventually falls unconscious

"We are asking state bodies to undertake appropriate measures," the Holy Synod statement said. "We are expressing our deepest regret to all victims of the violence."

The statement came a day after the Serbian Health Ministry said it would investigate methods used at the rehabilitation centre near the southwestern city of Novi Pazar and after government human rights watchdog Sasa Jankovic announced he had filed criminal charges against the centre and its lead priest Dejan Peranovic.

"The video footage and public acknowledgement of the clergyman in charge are testimonies to violence which is in contravention to the evangelical spirit of the church and its mission," the church statement said.

Peranovic told TV's B92 that the beatings were a "hard and unwanted, but necessary part of treatment."

"I don't like beatings ... sometimes they are necessary," he said, saying patients' parents approved of the violence. (Editing by Adam Tanner and Charles Dick)

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