Lead Lawyer of UOC: Pressure on priests and believers may increase
Archpriest Alexander Bakhov, head of the UOC Legal Department, does not rule out further searches and the opening of criminal proceedings against the UOC clergy.
In recent months, criminal proceedings have been opened against the priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church: they have been summoned for interrogations and searched in temples and houses. This was said by the head of the UOC Legal Department Archpriest Alexander Bakhov at a press conference of representatives of the UOC, which took place on March 26 at the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, reports the UOC Information Centre.
According to the lead lawyer of the UOC, over the past few months in the Vinnitsa region, about 20 priests have been taken in for questioning. The cleric of the Rovno Eparchy of the UOC, Archpriest Viktor Zemlianoy, who has recently received a notice of suspicion under articles such as “inciting religious hatred” and “distributing literature containing a cult of violence and cruelty”, is also being prosecuted.
“Criminal proceedings against Father Viktor Zemlianoy are not the only ones. In other regions, there have also been initiated criminal proceedings under Art. 161 of the Criminal Code "Violation of citizens' equality based on their race, nationality or religious preferences", searches conducted in temples, eparchial administrations, and priests’ houses," said Archpriest Alexander Bakhov.
The UOC does not exclude that the pressure on priests and believers of the UOC may increase.
“Considering the situations that arise with the seizures of churches, with calls for incitement of religious hatred, which are ignored, we tend to believe that these actions can be taken against members of the UOC. And we can expect searches, pressure, aggressive reaction from both radical elements and law enforcement bodies,” the head of the UOC Legal Department said.
According to Alexander Bakhov, the UOC is not trying to retain religious communities, but they intend to protect the rights of believers in a legal way.
“We assure that we are not trying to retain anyone, and we do not call on anyone to go anywhere. After all, each religious community determines its own affiliation, and this is evidenced by 43 religious communities that have changed their subordination. But there are religious communities that do not want to change their subordination, they report their decision to the local authorities, but they don’t want to hear them and try to change their subordination by force. In this case, we will protect their rights by all legal means,” assured Archpriest Alexander Bakhov.
As the UOJ reported, the Legal Department of the UOC has created an interactive map of church takeovers. As of March 26, 2019, 62 parishes attacked by raiders from the new church structure are marked on the map.