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CRIMEA: Court orders parish to destroy its chapel

Source:                www.forum18.org

Date:                     December 9, 2019


CRIMEA: Court orders parish to destroy its chapel
http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2526
By Felix Corley, Forum 18

The Orthodox Church of Ukraine fears that the authorities in the western
Crimean city of Yevpatoriya will demolish a small wooden chapel it built
between two blocks of flats in 2013, before Russia's invasion and
annexation of Crimea. The city court ruled on 6 November 2019 that the
Church is using the site illegally and that it should demolish its chapel
within one month.

The Church complains it learnt about the court hearing only on that day.
Its lawyer said the Church is appealing against the decision (see below).

Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra Yefymenko visited the Yevpatoriya church
during Sunday liturgy on 1 December, which was attended by "a large number
of parishioners" squeezing into the small church. Many had come specially
from other cities of Crimea, she told Forum 18 (see below).

Russia's March 2014 annexation of Crimea is not recognised by Ukraine or
internationally.

The Russian authorities in Crimea use the wide range of available laws and
regulations to punish communities that meet for worship in places the
authorities do not like.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has called on the Russian
government not to evict the Orthodox Church of Ukraine congregation from
its rented accommodation in the Crimean capital Simferopol while the
Committee considers an appeal by 62 parishioners
(http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2525). The premises serve as
the Crimean Diocese's Sts Volodymyr and Olga Cathedral.

On 18 November a Russian arbitration court rejected the Diocese's latest
appeal against a court order to annul the rental agreement and evict the
Cathedral. On 28 November, the Diocese lodged a last-ditch appeal to
Russia's Supreme Court in Moscow.

On 8 November, a Magistrate's Court in Simferopol District fined Imam Aydar
Islyamov one week's average local wages for leading Friday prayers at a
Mosque in a home in the village of Ukrainka near Simferopol on 11 October.
He was punished under Russian Administrative Code Article 5.26, Part 4
("Russians conducting missionary activity"). A municipal official told
Forum 18 that an inspection had found that Islyamov had not violated the
Land Code. The Prosecutor's Office official who led the case in court
refused to explain why an individual should be punished for leading worship
(see below).

The Prosecutor's Office, OMON riot police and officers of the Police's
Anti-Extremism Centre raided Friday prayers on 5 July and again on 25
October at a mosque in the village of Zarechnoe, also in Simferopol
District (http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2518). After the
first raid, Prosecutors similarly brought a case against Imam Arsen
Kantemirov under Russian Administrative Code Article 5.26, Part 4. However,
on 7 October the Magistrate cancelled the case because it had been lodged
outside the deadline for such administrative cases.

Neither of these two Simferopol District Mosques have Russian state
registration. The Crimean Justice Ministry has rejected the registration
application from the Orthodox Church of Ukraine's Simferopol parish, most
recently on 20 September. It claimed there were "violations" in the
documents presented. A Justice Ministry official insisted to Forum 18 that
"nothing in principle" obstructs the registration of communities of the
Orthodox Church of Ukraine (see below).

Another community which has been repeatedly denied Russian state
registration is the Tavrida Muftiate, a body independent of the
state-backed Crimean Muftiate. The Justice Ministry has registered ten of
its mosque communities independently, but refuses to register the Tavrida
Muftiate as a centralised religious organisation (see below).

Court orders chapel destruction

The Kiev Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church built a small, wooden chapel
between two blocks of flats in the western Crimean city of Yevpatoriya in
2013. This was before the 2014 Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea.
The now Kiev-based lawyer for the Church, Sergei Zayets of the Regional
Centre for Human Rights, told Forum 18 that the chapel was built on land
belonging to the community of those living in the flats.

According to court documents seen by Forum 18, the wooden chapel is 5.5
metres (18 feet) by 5.5 metres and its height to the top of the
gold-painted cross on the wooden onion dome is just over 10 metres (35
feet).

After the Russian annexation, the Russian-backed Yevpatoria city
administration began moves to have the chapel demolished. Officials began
with written warnings.

On 17 September 2019, the municipal authorities, including its Municipal
Control Department, brought a suit to Yevpatoria City Court, seeking the
demolition of the chapel. It claimed that the Diocese had never gained
approval for the chapel's construction.

Judge Galina Lobanova at the City Court ruled on 6 November that the Church
is using the site illegally and that the Church must demolish its chapel
within one month of the decision coming into force, according to the
decision seen by Forum 18.

The Church complains it learnt about the court hearing only on that day.
Its lawyer, Zayets, told Forum 18 that, as the hearing took place in the
absence of representatives of the parish, it has lodged a request to the
same Yevpatoria City Court for a re-examination of the decision taken in
absentia. "This method has in the past proved more effective than an appeal
to Crimea's Supreme Court," Zayets told Forum 18.

Following the creation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and its
recognition by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in January 2019, the
Crimean Diocese of the Kiev Patriarchate became part of the Orthodox Church
of Ukraine. Members of the Yevpatoriya parish then stuck a notice on the
window of the chapel door: "Our Church is canonical".

Ukrainian journalist Oleksandra Yefymenko visited the Yevpatoriya church
during Sunday liturgy on 1 December, which was attended by "a large number
of parishioners" squeezing into the small church. Many had come specially
from other cities of Crimea, she told Forum 18 on 3 December.

The Orthodox Church of Ukraine lawyer, Sergei Zayets, told Forum 18 that it
later added information about the threatened destruction of the Yevpatoriya
chapel to its 28 August appeal to the United Nations Human Rights Committee
about the threatened eviction of its cathedral from the rented premises in
Simferopol.

Kirill Vavrenyuk, first deputy head of Yevpatoriya Municipality, insisted
that the chapel is not a place of worship. "Some people, provocateurs, call
it a church, but the court decided it was not," he told Forum 18 from
Yevpatoriya on 2 December.  He insisted that it had been a court decision,
not his own, that the chapel must be destroyed. "They had no documents to
build a church there."

Asked if the Municipality was seeking the destruction of any other
buildings because they do not have full documentation, Vavrenyuk told Forum
18 he did not know.

Asked if the chapel would be ordered destroyed if it belonged not to the
Orthodox Church of Ukraine but to the Moscow Patriarchate, Vavrenyuk chose
not to answer. He told Forum 18 that he was unaware of the Church's appeal
to the UN Human Rights Committee.

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