Ukraine: DONBAS: Raid, fine for unregistered worship meetings

Source:             www.forum18.org

Date:                  February 10, 2020


Security forces of the unrecognised Donetsk People's Republic raided
Protestant Sunday morning worship on 19 January. They interrogated church
leaders at the police station. In December 2018, a Makeyevka court fined
another Protestant leader 10 days' average local wages for leading a
community denied registration. "Each country has its own Religion Law," the
rebels' Ombudsperson Darya Morozova claimed, wrongly.

DONBAS: Raid, fine for unregistered worship meetings
http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2542
By Felix Corley, Forum 18

The authorities of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic (DPR), an
unrecognised entity in eastern Ukraine, continue to punish religious
communities which meet for worship without permission. Security forces
raided a Protestant community during its Sunday morning worship meeting on
19 January. They took church leaders to the police station for
interrogation, but released them after several hours.

After prosecutors found another Protestant community meeting for worship
after being denied registration, they arranged for a court in Makeyevka to
fine the leader ten days' average local wages in December 2019 (see below).

Despite October 2019 amendments to the DPR Religion Law reducing to 10 the
number of adult local residents required to form a local religious
organisation, almost all non-Moscow Patriarchate religious communities are
still being denied registration. Jehovah's Witnesses were banned entirely
in September 2018 (see below).

Sergei Gavrish, the head of the Religion and Nationalities Department at
the Culture Ministry in Donetsk, refused to give Forum 18 any information
about which religious communities had been granted registration, or which
had been refused and why (see below).

In autumn 2019, Fr Aleksandr Sushko, a priest of the Orthodox Church of
Ukraine, temporarily travelled out of the rebel-held area into
government-controlled Ukraine. However, when he sought re-entry to
rebel-held Donetsk, its officials barred him entry. They refused to put the
ban in writing (see below).

The rebel authorities have seized numerous places of worship of a variety
of faiths. They seized two churches in Donetsk from the Ukrainian Orthodox
Kiev Patriarchate (now the Orthodox Church of Ukraine) in 2018. In January
2019, they formally opened a Registry Office in the seized building of New
Life Baptist Church in Makeyevka, attended by the first Deputy Justice
Minister. The Justice Ministry refused to put Forum 18 through to ask the
Deputy Minister why (see below).

Asked about all these specific violations of the right to freedom of
religion or belief, the rebels' Human Rights Ombudsperson Darya Morozova
told Forum 18 from Donetsk that her office had received no appeals about
any such violations in 2019 or 2020. "To take any action I need a written
appeal from an individual or community," she insisted (see below).

Asked why religious communities which meet for worship without registration
should be punished, Morozova insisted that everyone must follow the law.
"Each country has its own Religion Law," she claimed, wrongly (see below).

Pro-Russian rebels seized parts of Ukraine's Donetsk Region in April 2014
and proclaimed what they called the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR). Heavy
fighting ensued. The rebel administration currently controls nearly half of
Ukraine's Donetsk Region.

Restrictive law, de facto and actual bans

The unrecognised DPR's People's Council adopted a Religion Law on 24 June
2016. Article 3 included a ban on "the creation of sects or the spreading
of sectarianism", concepts that the Law did not define. The Preamble to the
Law also banned "sectarianism".

The Law did not explicitly ban exercising freedom of religion or belief
without official permission. However, in outlining procedures for gaining
state permission it presumed that such permission was required.

On 13 April 2018, the People's Council adopted an amendment to the Religion
Law requiring all non-Moscow Patriarchate organisations to re-register by 1
March 2019. The amendment specifically banned religious organisations from
functioning if they failed to get re-registration by the deadline.
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2428)

Registration was supposed to be enacted by the Justice Ministry on the
recommendation of the Religion and Nationalities Department of the Culture
Ministry. The Justice Ministry's State Registration Department issued its
first certificate to a religious organisation – a Jewish community – on
26 March 2019. Signing the certificate was acting Department Head Sergei
Goptsy (now the Deputy Head).

However, most non-Moscow Patriarchate communities (including all Protestant
communities) were initially rejected. Only in late 2019 did a few more get
registration.

On 11 October 2019, the People's Council adopted a further amendment,
removing "sectarianism" from the Preamble. The amendment changed in Article
3 the ban on "the creation of sects or the spreading of sectarianism" to a
ban on "the creation of religious associations infringing on the rights and
freedoms of citizens".

The October 2019 amendment also reduced in Article 8, Part 3 the number of
adults permanently resident in one locality required to form a local
religious organisation from 50 to 10. In Article 8, Part 4 and Article 9,
Part 2 the amendment reduced the requirement for founding a centralised
religious organisation from 10 local communities to three.

Sergei Gavrish, the head of the Religion and Nationalities Department at
the Culture Ministry in Donetsk, refused to give Forum 18 any information
on how many communities had gained registration. He also refused to explain
why almost all non-Moscow Patriarchate communities had been denied
registration. "We won't give any information," he told Forum 18 from
Donetsk on 20 January 2020.

On 26 September 2018, the Supreme Court banned Jehovah's Witnesses
entirely. The General Prosecutor's Office website noted the same day that
"In future, the carrying out of activity by adherents of the given
religious association in any form will attract criminal responsibility".
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2428)

The ban on Jehovah's Witnesses – which could not be challenged - followed
several Supreme Court decisions declaring their literature and
international website "extremist". The Supreme Court also banned several
Muslim publications as "extremist".
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2428)

The rebels' Human Rights Ombudsperson Darya Morozova told Forum 18 on 10
February that Jehovah's Witnesses have not appealed to her office about the
ban. "To take any action I need a written appeal from an individual or
community."

Raid on meeting for worship

DPR security forces raided a Protestant community during its Sunday morning
worship meeting on 19 January 2020, fellow Protestants told Forum 18,
asking that the community not be identified. Officers took several church
members to the police station, where they interrogated them. They released
the church members later in the afternoon. It does not appear that any of
them were subjected to court cases.

The rebels' Human Rights Ombudsperson Darya Morozova told Forum 18 on 10
February that she was unaware of raids on religious communities, including
the 19 January raid.

Fine for meeting for worship

On 23 December 2019, the leader of Ark of the Covenant Pentecostal Church
in the town of Makeyevka was fined, the DPR General Prosecutor's Office
noted on its website the following day.

The latest trouble for the church began in late 2019, when the Prosecutor's
Office in Makeyevka inspected the church and found that it was still
functioning despite being refused registration by the Culture Ministry. The
Ministry claimed that the church had failed to submit all the required
documents with its application.

Sergei Gavrish, the head of the Religion and Nationalities Department at
the Culture Ministry in Donetsk, refused to tell Forum 18 on 10 February
2020 what documents Ark of the Covenant Church had failed to submit.

The Prosecutor's Office claimed that the Church's decision to continue
functioning "without state registration is a violation of Article 11, Part
1 and Article 32, Part 6" of the local Religion Law.

The Prosecutor's Office brought a case against the Church's leader under
Article 186-5, Part 1 of the Administrative Code (the DPR uses a modified
2013 version of Ukraine's Soviet-era Administrative Code).

Article 186-5, Part 1 ("Violation of the law on associations") punishes
leadership of or participation in associations which have been denied
registration or stripped of registration through the courts with small
fines.

On 23 December 2019, a judge at Gornyatsky Inter-District Court in
Makeyevka found the church leader guilty and fined him 3,400 Russian
Roubles (the DPR uses the Russian Rouble), the General Prosecutor's Office
noted. This represents about 10 days' average wages for those in formal
work.

The Court refused to give Forum 18 any information about the fine by phone
on 20 January. Forum 18 received no response from the Court to its written
questions by the end of the working day in Donetsk on 10 February.

Forum 18 was unable to reach Makeyevka's Prosecutor, Aleksandr Ryabtsev, or
any of his colleagues on 10 February.

The rebels' Human Rights Ombudsperson Darya Morozova read the General
Prosecutor's Office announcement on its website while Forum 18 waited on
the phone. "I would need to look at the documents before commenting," she
told Forum 18. "I don't want to give a subjective judgment." She insisted
that even though Ark of the Covenant Church does not have registration, it
can still appeal to her office.

Asked why religious communities which meet for worship without registration
should be punished, Morozova insisted that everyone must follow the law.
"Each country has its own Religion Law," she claimed, wrongly.

Priest barred from returning

Some religious communities face obstruction in maintaining their clergy in
the rebel-held areas of Donetsk Region. Clergy overseeing the communities
are also denied entry, cutting such communities off from their
fellow-believers and spiritual oversight.

In autumn 2019, Fr Aleksandr Sushko, a priest of the Orthodox Church of
Ukraine, temporarily travelled out of the rebel-held area into
government-controlled Ukraine. However, when he sought re-entry to
rebel-held Donetsk, its officials barred him entry.

"They gave Fr Aleksandr nothing in writing but told him verbally that he
was being deported because he served the Ukrainian Church," his bishop
Archbishop Sergei (Gorobtsov) told Forum 18 from Mariupol (in Ukrainian
government-controlled territory) on 31 January 2020.

The rebels' Human Rights Ombudsperson Darya Morozova told Forum 18 on 10
February that Fr Sushko has not appealed to her office for help and that
she was unaware of the refusal to allow him to return.

Archbishop Sergei said that only four of his priests now remain in the
rebel-held area. "Eighteen priests left during or after the fighting in
2014 – one was even held in custody before being released. Those that
remain are under pressure. They fear leaving in case they are not allowed
to return."

Archbishop Sergei said that the rebel authorities would not allow him to
visit the region. This means he is unable to make pastoral visits to his
communities there. "I'm on a list, and they would probably arrest me if I
tried to enter," he told Forum 18. "I last tried to get in in 2014. I would
only go if they gave me security guarantees."

The rebel authorities allowed the Vatican nuncio Archbishop Claudio
Gugerotti to visit Roman and Greek Catholics in Donetsk for a Christmas
Mass on the evening of 24 December 2019. The Mass was held at 6 pm because
it had to be over before the curfew (currently from 11 pm to 5 am), the
Apostolic Nunciature website noted.

Two Orthodox Churches seized

In summer 2018, the rebel authorities seized two churches in Donetsk from
the Ukrainian Orthodox Kiev Patriarchate (now the Orthodox Church of
Ukraine). They seized Holy Spirit Church and Christ the Saviour Church,
Archbishop Sergei (Gorobtsov) told Forum 18 from Mariupol (in Ukrainian
government-controlled territory) on 31 January 2020.

"Officials said that they don't have registration and the gas and
electricity had already been cut off, as the communities have no
registration," Archbishop Sergei told Forum 18. "Holy Spirit Church has
already been handed to the State Property Fund and it's unclear what will
happen to it."

Archbishop Sergei said that of the 36 churches in rebel-held territory
which have registration under Ukrainian law about half are still operating.
"We have only four priests left there, and they travel around to keep
services going."

In late 2019, the rebel authorities denied re-entry to another priest who
travelled out of rebel-held territory (see above).

Seized places of worship

In the years since the rebels established the DPR, they have seized
numerous places of worship, expelled the owners and used the buildings for
other purposes.

On 17 January 2019, the rebel authorities formally opened Red Guard
District Registry Office in the town of Makeyevka in the seized building of
New Life Baptist Church. The Registry Office is run by the Justice
Ministry. "I would like to thank the people who put in a lot of effort for
this ceremony to take place," Yakov Khodos, first deputy Justice Minister
told the gathering, according to the DPR People's Council website.

The office of Justice Minister Yuri Sirovatko refused to put Forum 18
through to Deputy Minister Khodos or give his number on 10 February 2020.

On 6 July 2018, officials seized the two-storey building of New Life
Baptist Church. "About midday, seven officials – including some with
weapons – arrived and told us that our building no longer belongs to us,"
Pastor Aleksandr Moseychuk recounted the same day.
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2422) "Despite all our
persuasion and discussions, they sealed the building." The seal on the door
was signed by a Justice Ministry official A. S. Bashkatov.

In July 2018, the authorities turned a former place of worship in Donetsk
of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) into a
Registry Office. All Jehovah's Witness places of worship have been seized
and allocated to other uses, as have Donetsk Christian University,
Protestant churches and two mosques.
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2422)

The rebels' Human Rights Ombudsperson Darya Morozova said that she was
unaware of the seizure of places of worship, including New Life Baptist
Church in Makeyevka. "They can submit an appeal," she told Forum 18 on 10
February. "If there was a violation of the law we will take action."

Baptist Church spared

In May 2019, the DPR authorities tried to seize Light of the Gospel Baptist
Church in Donetsk. Church members finished building it in 2010 after ten
years of work.

"They threatened to seal the church," local Baptists told Forum 18 in
January 2020. "But as there was no court decision they did not seize it.
Church members took everything out of the building, including even the
radiators. But when it became clear that they were not about to seize it,
the church restarted services."

Light of the Gospel Church lodged registration documents, but so far has
not received it, local Baptists added. (END)

Full reports on freedom of thought, conscience and belief in Donbas
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?query=&religion=all&country=87)

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