International Lawyers Warn Ukraine: Church Ban Threatens EU Membership Hopes

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Photo: Twitter Screenshot - The Telegraph

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky is under increasing pressure as international lawyers, advocating for the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), caution that efforts to prohibit the church could undermine the country’s prospects for EU membership. 

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The UOC, recognized as Ukraine’s oldest and largest Christian institution, may face legislation criminalizing its existence due to long standing connections with the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). Critics contend that despite asserting independence from Russia, the UOC has not entirely severed its ties with Moscow.

International lawyer Robert Amsterdam, representing the UOC, has written to UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, US President Joe Biden, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, urging them to intervene and advise President Zelensky to halt efforts to ban the church.

Accused of collaborating with Russia, the UOC, with its 12,000 parishes, faces harassment, intimidation, sanctions, and imprisonment of its clergy by Ukrainian authorities.

The Ukrainian parliament is set to vote on legislation targeting the UOC, a move that could effectively shut down the church. Lawyers argue this potential ban is excessively punitive, posing a serious threat to Orthodox Ukrainians.

They express concerns about Ukraine’s commitment to human rights and the rule of law, casting doubts on its ability to meet EU entry requirements.

Robert Amsterdam, from Amsterdam & Partners LLP, has presented a dossier detailing the UOC’s persecution, emphasizing arrests on dubious charges and signs of evidence planting.

According to his letter: “Regardless of these efforts, the authorities in Ukraine have falsely accused the Church of collaborating with the Russian regime. Of particular concern are the arrests of clerics on spurious charges. These have been carried out in an arbitrary way that calls into question Ukraine’s commitment to the rule of law. There are even highly concerning signs of evidence planting in some of these cases.”

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed concerns about the Ukrainian government’s crackdown on the UOC, labeling it a violation of religious freedom.

Lawyers argue that a potential UOC ban would set a “dangerous precedent,” undermining religious freedoms protected by international human rights law and the Ukrainian Constitution.

They stress the need for Western leaders to address this situation, highlighting its potential impact on Ukraine’s aspirations to join the European Union.

The international lawyers are cautioning Ukraine against banning the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, asserting that such actions may undermine the country’s EU membership aspirations. 

The UOC, facing potential legislation due to historical ties with Russia, is accused of collaboration, leading to harassment and imprisonment of its clergy. 

Lawyers emphasize concerns about Ukraine’s commitment to human rights and the rule of law, urging Western leaders to intervene and prevent potential damage to religious freedoms and EU entry prospects.

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