BELGRADE, Serbia — Police filed torture charges Friday against a Serbian Orthodox priest who allegedly beat a drug rehab patient with a shovel.
The former head of the church-backed Crna Reka rehab center in southern Serbia, Branislav Peranovic, has been removed from his position by a local bishop after a video broadcast on national television allegedly showed him swinging a shovel at an unnamed patient's lower back.
An employee of the center, shown in another video punching a patient with brass knuckles and kicking him until he nearly was knocked unconscious, was also charged by police for "harassment and torture."
They could face up to five years in prison if convicted.
Crna Reka priests have said the beatings were a necessary part of the therapy and were carried out with the consent of the patients and their parents.
Police said in a statement the administrators of the rehab center are also under investigation as to whether they had misappropriated funds. Local media reports said that desperate parents had to pay an average of euro500 ($700) per patient for treatment.
The media has said the Crna Reka patients are living in poor, strict, labor-camp conditions, and completely isolated from the outside world.
The Orthodox Church had ordered the regional spiritual leader, Bishop Artemije, to shut down the center altogether.
But he insisted he was unaware of the beatings before seeing the video, and said the center would remain open at the parents' request.
The bishop appointed Peranovic's assistant to run the facility. The assistant has publicly approved of the beatings.