Sat. May 18th, 2024

Justin Welby’s warning to President Zelensky over plans to ban Ukrainian Orthodox Church

Jamie Roberts By Jamie Roberts May9,2024

Last-ditch efforts are taking place behind the scenes to persuade President Zelensky against introducing a draconian new law which would in effect ban the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC).

At the forefront of the efforts is the Church of England led by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby amid fears that the Russian/ Ukraine war is leading to disproportionate oppressive measures from Zelensky and his supporters.

The UOC has been linked to the Russian Orthodox Church and Patriarch Kirill, a former member of the KGB and Putin ally, with claims that UOC priests are spies for Moscow.

Nick Baines the Bishop of Leeds, the Church of England’s lead Bishop on foreign policy, has written to the Ukrainian government to warn it that “many of the amendment’s key terms are vague, lack definition and are open to discriminatory interpretation in ways that violate international norms on FoRB…. At its most basic, this amendment threatens collective punishment.”

But the new law could pass as soon as today and is expected to be pushed through this week.

The Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament) is set to vote on Draft Law 8371 which will enforce a complete ban on the UOC, as soon as next week. Shockingly, the law not only outlaws the religion in public but also bans Ukrainians from following the faith in their own homes.

This comes as a former US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour has condemned Ukraine’s efforts to remove religious freedom as a “travesty”. Robert Destro has called it “a statute that imposes collective punishment on innocent parishioners, priests, and parish communities whose only “crime” is to practice the faith they have known since childhood”.

He goes on to say that “only totalitarians declare that their citizens are traitors because they refuse to accept state control of their religious beliefs, practices, associations, or leaders.”

The vote follows years of concerted efforts to bully and intimidate UOC parishioners and priests, journalists, and human rights activists.

Only last month, Ukrainian authorities blocked access to a number of websites publishing information on the developing situation of the UOC.

News websites covering the activities of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, such as the Synodal Information and Educational Department of the UOC (news.church.ua), the Union of Orthodox Journalists, “Orthodox Life”, and “No to schisms” (raskolam.net) have been made inaccessible in Ukraine following an order by the Ukrainian Security Services, according to local media reports.

However, critics of the Zelensky government have claimed that no specific evidence of unlawful behaviour has been presented or cited to justify this censorship.

They also insist that no specific facts about how the work of these news organisations “undermines the constitutional order of Ukraine” or how it “violates the territorial integrity” have been provided.

Instead, journalists working for these outlets have suffered threats and intimidation from the authorities. On March 12, the secret police raided the offices of the UOJ and arrested four Orthodox members of media, threatening them with charges carrying penalties of life imprisonment.

According to the legal team representing the detained journalists, they are not being accused of any contact with Russia – but have been jailed for reporting on the truth of the church seizures, which the SBU says is “damaging” to Ukraine.

Meanwhile, it is alleged that “thugs” continue to attack UOC premises and believers with impunity and tacit government approval. A recent attack included police watching the rector of the church and parishioners of the church being beaten by masked assailants.

The UK Foreign Office has also said previously they are “carefully tracking” plans by the Ukrainian government to ban the country’s oldest and most widely supported Christian church.

Commenting on these developments, Robert Amsterdam, lawyer for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, said: “Despite widespread condemnation, the Ukrainian government clearly wishes to continue its plans to breach international laws on human rights and religious freedom.

“It is outrageous that they are flouting international protections and all those who might vote for the bill should be ashamed of themselves.”

Jamie Roberts

By Jamie Roberts

Jamie is an award-winning investigative journalist with a focus on uncovering corruption and advocating for social justice. With over a decade of experience in the field, Jamie's work has been instrumental in bringing about positive change in various communities.

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2 thoughts on “Justin Welby’s warning to President Zelensky over plans to ban Ukrainian Orthodox Church”
  1. It is concerning to see the Ukrainian government trying to implement a law that threatens religious freedom. Such oppressive measures are alarming, and it’s crucial for President Zelensky to reconsider the implications of banning the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

  2. Is President Zelensky really considering banning the Ukrainian Orthodox Church? How will this impact religious freedom in Ukraine?

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