Police have filed torture charges against a Serbian Orthodox priest for beating 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 after a video broadcast on national television 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, was also charged by police on Friday.

Crna Reka priests have said the beatings are a necessary part of the therapy and are carried out with the consent of patients' parents.