Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
The Parliament adopted a second “anti-church” law, and the forced eviction of religious communities of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church from churches with the participation of local officials and right-wing radical groups started in the villages of Western and Central Ukraine. The Prosecutor’s office completed a pre-trial investigation into the case of the journalist Vyshinsky, and administrative resources and voter bribery schemes are already being used in the electoral campaign. More details are available in the review of the human rights platform “Uspishna Varta“ for 14-20 January 2019.
FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE AND RELIGION
On January 17th the second of the so-called “anti-church” laws – draft law No. 4128/D on amending some laws of Ukraine regarding the subordination of religious organizations and the procedure for the state registration of religious organizations with the status of a legal entity – was adopted at the second attempt. In accordance with the new law, in order to change subordination it is necessary to amend the charter. For this purpose there is a need to convene a meeting in accordance with the charter of the community itself. In order to make a decision on a transfer, two-thirds of the members of the community must now vote in favour of it and sign the decision personally.
The new law has a number of shortcomings that may complicate the situation of communities, especially in connection with the need to “bring statutes in accordance with the law throughout the year”, which stipulates the actual re-registration of communities. If such re-registration is not carried out, the statutes will lose their force.
From now on only the state body for religious affairs (the Ministry of Culture) and the relevant departments of regional state administrations can register religious organizations without the participation of the Ministry of Justice, as was previously envisaged. Recall that since December 2014 the Ministry of Culture has refused to register a number of charters of religious organizations of the UOC [Moscow Patriarchate – ed].
Human rights defenders note that the approach proposed by draft law No. 4128/D is the unjustified interference of the state in the internal affairs of religious communities, and may lead to violations of Ukraine’s international obligations in the sphere of freedom of conscience and religion. According to experts, the purpose of the law is to transfer the churches of the UOC to the newly established Church – the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), which is actively lobbied by the current President Poroshenko. Earlier, on December 20th, the Parliament adopted the first of the “anti-Church” laws (2662-VIII) on changing the names of religious organizations.
A number of settlements in Central and Western Ukraine have already recorded instances of UOC churches being forced to change their religious affiliation in favor of the newly created OCU. Based on the cases that “Uspishna Varta” has analysed, such “transitions” are accompanied by the forceful seizure of temples by radical “activists” and the exertion of administrative pressure by local officials. The ultra-wing groups “C14”, “Svoboda”, and others take part in the seizure of temples.
- On January 13th, in the village of Vorsovka in the Malinsky district of the Zhytomyr region, supporters of the OCU with the participation of a representative of “Svoboda” and the village head actually didn’t let a UOC-Moscow Patriarchate priest of the UOC and the abbot of the Svyato-Pokrovsky Church of Malinsky, who came to Vorsovka for a prayer service, enter the Svyato-Nikolaevsky Church. Despite this, the prayer was held outside the walls of the temple in the open air. Earlier, on January 11th, supporters of the OCU in the village of Vorsovka, with the support of the village council and activists from “Svoboda”, held a rally in favour of transition to the newly formed structure with shouting, causing a scene. The church was sealed off, and the priest of the UOC was taken to hospital with a hypertensive crisis.
- On January 14th in the village of Puzhaykovo in the Balta district of the Odessa region the former chairman of the Balta regional council and a member of the “Svoboda” party informed parishioners about the transition of the church to the OCU. The priest of the temple (UOC) refused to switch to the OCU.
- On January 16th in the village of Olenovka in the Chernigov region the Svyato-Voznesensky temple of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was captured by priests of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) who were accompanied by “activists” from the “C14” group. A day earlier a territorial community meeting took place in Olenevka with the participation of visitors who are not residents of the village, who voted for the transition of the local religious community from the UOC to the OCU. At the same time, only two people from local residents supported the transition, the supporters of the OCU who arrived gave 24 votes, and another 11 votes were added to the protocol. Earlier, members of the radical group “C14”-Chernigov expressed their regret that in this region so far no religious community has moved to the OCU, and offered their help to supporters of the new church.
- On January 17th Orthodox believers in the Chernigov region appealed to the head of the Borznyansky regional state administration to return back the temple of the UOC in the village of Olenovka. The religious community, together with the clergy, went to the local council and the district state administration, where they carried out a standing prayer in protest against the inaction of the authorities to protect the interests of the members of the canonical UOC. The legal department of the UOC stressed that the seizure of the temple in Olenovka is an example of the government’s interference in the internal affairs of the UOC religious community.
- On January 16th local officials, together with “activists” and supporters of the OCU, seized a church of the UOC in honor of St. John the Baptist in the village of Shandrovets in the Lvov region. The “activists”, led by the Chairman of the Shandrovets village council, broke into the house of the abbot of the temple, Archpriest Ilya Urusky, and in the presence of the police demanded that the priest leave the parish. The abbot and parishioners were not present at a meeting where the officials decided to transfer the church to the management of the OCU.
- On January 13th in the village of Pokhovka, Ivano-Frankovsk region, the UOC community was transferred to the OCU during so-called church community meetings in violation of the church charter and contrary to the opinion of the parishioners. Representatives of the Greek Catholic community, visitors, and a small number of parishioners of the local church took part in the voting, some of who were not parishioners of this church at all. The priest and believers of the UOC claimed that a violation of the church charter was under way and then left the meeting.
- On January 20th in Odessa a priest of the UOC was expelled from the Church in honor of Saints Cyril and Methodius, located on the territory of the military academy. Archpriest Sergey Dmitryev has been the abbot of the Church and was engaged in its restoration since 2002.
As a rule, it is the local authorities and heads of village councils, and not religious communities, who become the initiators of meetings for the transition of parishes. Thus, on January 26th the local government of the village of Brailov in Vinnytsia initiated a meeting for the transition of two parishes of the UOC to the newly created structure of the OCU. The local authorities, led by the village head, bypassing the law, initiated the collection of signatures for the transition of both communities of the UOC, and the announcement of the meeting was placed on the pages of the municipal newspaper. One of these communities already previously had a general parish meeting, which unanimously supported the preservation of the UOC.
Conflicts over temples were recorded not only in the villages of Crimea, but also in the village of Bronytsia in the Kamen-Kashirsky district of the Volyn region and the village of Roztoky in the Kremenets district of the Ternopol region.
There were also cases of vandalism against temples and religious buildings of the UOC. Thus, in Lvov on the night of January 13th “activists” from the “C14” group left insulting inscriptions on the gates of the Svyato-Georgiyevsky Cathedral of the UOC. The investigative-operational group that arrived at the scene of the incident did not discover any traces of the inscriptions – perhaps the parishioners painted over them. The photos that captured the desecration of the Orthodox church were later published on social networks by the representatives of “C14” themselves with the caption: “Activists of C14-Lvov reminded Kremlin agents that they have no place in Lvov”. On the same day, unknown persons stained the facade of the church of St. Prince Vladimir of the UOC with paint and wrote on the front door: “FSB get out of the city of Lvov C14”.
On January 18th in the Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral in the city of Sumy there was an explosion. As the parishioners reported, unknown persons threw an explosive device during the evening divine service. None of those present in the Cathedral were injured. As a result the police initiated criminal proceedings under the article “Hooliganism”.
FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND OPINIONS
On January 14th the prosecutor’s office announced the completion of the pre-trial investigation against the editor-in-chief of RIA “Novosti Ukraine” Kirill Vyshinsky. The Vyshinsky case will be transferred for consideration in essence to one of the district courts of Kiev.
On January 17th the Kherson City Court satisfied the motion of the prosecutor and extended Vyshinsky’s term of detention to February 16th. The complaint of Vyshinsky about the illegality of his detention in May 2018 will be considered by the Criminal Court of Cassation of the Supreme Court of Ukraine. A hearing is scheduled for January 23rd. Recall that Kirill Vyshinsky was detained on May 15th 2018 on charges of Article 111 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (“state treason”). The journalist has been in a detention facility without an alternative ever since. More about the case of Vyshinsky can be read here.
On January 17th the staff of the Prosecutor General’s office of Ukraine carried out searches at the house and office of the lawyer Andrey Domansky, who represents the interests of Kirill Vyshinsky. Domansky also represented the interests of the journalist Vasily Muravitsky, the deported journalist Pavel Karnazytsky, and others persecuted for political reasons. According to the lawyer, the basis for the searches is a mere formality. Domansky links these investigative actions primarily with his public speeches at international venues where he has repeatedly stated that pressure is being put on freedom of speech in Ukraine.
On January 17th the Lvov journalist Elena Boyko (Vishchur), who had been deported from Russia, was detained by the Security Service of Ukraine in the framework of criminal proceedings under part 2 of article 110 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine – encroachment on the territorial integrity and inviolability of Ukraine. According to the SBU, since 2014 Boyko has distributed materials on the Internet that have an anti-Ukrainian character, promote an intra-Ukrainian conflict based on political beliefs, and publicly call to violate the territorial integrity of Ukraine. On January 17th the Galitsky district court of Lvov decided to leave Boyko for 60 days in jail without the right to bail.
In Vinnytsia the editor-in-chief of the regional TV channel “UA:Vinnytsia” was fired, and a journalist of the channel received a severe reprimand for the “wrong” submission of materials about the arrival of Archbishop Varsonofy to the regional center as the new governor of the Vinnytsia diocese of the UOC. The program was aired on December 18th 2018. Journalists from the “Detektor-media” newspaper, which positions itself as a Ukrainian media watchdog, criticized the story and complained to the National Public Broadcasting Company of Ukraine (UA:PBC).
On January 16th in Lvov the administrative court declared that the decision to impose a moratorium on the Russian-language cultural product is illegal. A lawsuit was filed by the Lvov publisher and founder of the newspaper “Galitskiye Kontakty” Sergey Ivanov-Malyavin. Recall that the moratorium on the use of the Russian-speaking cultural product in Lvov was introduced by the decision of the regional council on September 18th 2018.
On January 18th in Kherson unknown persons sprayed tear gas in the office of the newspaper “Novy Den” and opened fire at the windows. At the time Odessa entrepreneurs were holding a press conference in the room. As a result of the attack one of the journalists of the publication received a retinal burn. The police gave the event the preliminary qualification of “hooliganism”.
The Minister of the Interior said that a representative of a political force was being investigated for their involvement in the incident. It was declared that he was suspected of hooliganism (Article 296 of the Criminal Code) and a decision will be made on the measure of restraint.
The Security Service of Ukraine continues to persecute users of social networks because of the information they post. On January 17th the SBU reported about the detention in Zaporozhye of another “anti-Ukrainian Internet agitator who acted in the interests of the aggressor country”. Law enforcement officers raided the place of residence of the detainee in the framework of the criminal proceedings initiated under part 2 of article 110 and part 1 of article 436-1 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION AND PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
On January 19th in Kiev a rally took place in memory of the journalist Anastasiya Baburova (citizen of Ukraine) and the Russian lawyer Stanislav Markelov, who were killed in Moscow 10 years ago by the ultra-right. This is a traditional rally held by left-wing organizations, where they protest against the terror of radical nationalists in all post-Soviet countries. On the day of the rally threats were sent to the participants of the rally both publicly and on the Telegram channels of right-wing radical groups. No obvious violations of law and order were recorded during the rally. A year ago radicals didn’t allow activists to carry out the planned rally, and started shouting threats and throwing eggs at them. The police tried to push back the ultra-right, and there was a fight. As a result, the police detained 8 members of the Committee of January 19th – the organisers of the rally.
ELECTIONS 2019. THE RIGHT TO ELECT AND TO BE ELECTED
As a part of the presidential electoral campaign in March 2019, observers recorded the following violations.
- The current President Poroshenko uses the so-called “Tomos tour” – regional trips for the presentation of Tomos of Autocephaly – as an electoral campaign. With such trips, starting from January 10th, Poroshenko has already visited the Rovno, Lutsk, Vinnytsia, Zhytomyr, Cherkassy, and the Kiev regions. Independent observers from the public network “Opora” recorded in Lutsk and Kivertsi how dozens of people after the visit of the President gathered in groups and returned to the buses parked on several streets. There were also signs of the centralized transportation of people to the outskirts of Lutsk, where they arrived in small groups to meet with the President.
Voter bribery and unfair competition
- 2 weeks after the electoral campaign started the first possible schemes for bribing voters were recorded. Information comes from Kiev, Odessa, Chernigov, Khmelnitsky, as well as from small towns and villages. According to journalists, local officials, using administrative resources, organized a so-called “sociological project”. In order to participate it is necessary to sign a “like-mindedness questionnaire” and a “personal commitment”, which are perceived by many as an obligation to vote for the current President Petro Poroshenko.
- Double-candidate. The people’s deputy from the “People’s Front” party Yury Tymoshenko intends to run for the Ukrainian presidency. The initials of Yury Tymoshenko (Tymoshenko Yu. V) in abbreviated form completely coincide with the initials of the “Batkivshchyna” party leader Yuliya Tymoshenko, who leads sociological polls. Thus, two surnames of Tymoshenko will be located near to each other on the ballot, which can mislead voters.
Physical violence against the participants of the electoral campaign
- On January 14th unidentified persons opened fire at the car of a staff member of the headquarters of presidential candidate Anatoly Gritsenko in Kiev. The police started criminal proceedings on the fact of hooliganism with the use of weapons.
The exertion of pressure by law enforcement bodies on participants of the electoral process
- On January 15th the deputy Nadezhda Savchenko, who was arrested on suspicion of state treason, said that the SBU was preventing her from registering as a presidential candidate in Ukraine. She noted that law enforcement officers do not allow her to be a notary in the pre-trial detention center, which makes it impossible for her to draw up documents for registration. Recall that on December 18th the Shevchenko district court granted the prosecutor’s request to extend Savchenko’s preventive measure for 60 days.
MONITORING OF HUMAN RIGHTS CASES
On January 18th the Shevchenkovsky court of Kiev indefinitely postponed the hearing on the case of General Aleksandr Shchegolev due to the illness of one of the judges. The hearing on January 15th was postponed for the same reason. Meanwhile, the accused continues his third year in prison. As a reminder, Shchegolev is charged with illegally obstructing peaceful gatherings, rallies, and demonstrations, and abuse of office during the events of February 2014. In total, 136 victims are involved in the case of the General, but only a half of them have been questioned in 3 years.
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