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7 Jan, 2024 14:31

Ban on Christian church could derail Ukraine's EU bid – Telegraph

Lawyers have reportedly warned that the attempt to outlaw an “historic institution” will backfire
Ban on Christian church could derail Ukraine's EU bid – Telegraph

Kiev’s attempts to ban the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) could have “dire consequences” for the nation’s hopes of joining the EU, The Telegraph newspaper quoted lawyers as saying on Saturday. The Ukrainian parliament is expected to vote later this month on closing down the country’s biggest Christian denomination with its 12,000 parishes.

Lawyers have written to British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, US President Joe Biden and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen urging them to put pressure on Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky to “suspend efforts to ban this historic institution,” the paper reported.

Such a decision could cause “serious harm to Orthodox Ukrainians” and call into question whether Ukraine can meet its commitments as a candidate for EU membership, according to a letter to Western leaders penned by international lawyer Robert Amsterdam, and quoted by the Telegraph.

“This will have dire ramifications for Ukraine’s entry into the European Union and its place in the Western world,” Amsterdam wrote. He added that Kiev had “falsely accused” the UOC of collaborating with Moscow and expressed concern about “arrests of clerics on spurious charges.”

Ukrainian authorities have long accused the UOC of having ties with the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), even though the religious organization condemned Russia's military operation in Ukraine and declared its autonomy from Moscow, following the escalation of the conflict in February 2022.

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has opened 65 criminal cases against UOC priests, sanctioned 17 clerics, and deprived 19 hierarchs of the country’s citizenship, according to TASS news agency.

The Ukrainian government’s attacks on the UOC are “a clear violation of the freedom of religion guaranteed by both international human rights law and the Ukrainian Constitution itself,” Amsterdam wrote.

In October, the Ukrainian parliament passed in a single reading a draft law on banning the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, prepared by the Cabinet of Ministers on the order of President Vladimir Zelensky. The document was supported by 267 out of 450 deputies.

The head of the ROC, Patriarch Kirill, earlier condemned Kiev’s actions, saying the persecution of the UOC was taking place “in a country that swears allegiance to the European values of democracy and freedom”, including the freedom of religion.