Ptycha Village Case

 

PRESS RELEASE 

on the seizure and re-arrest of the church building located in the village of Ptycha, Dubno district, Rivne region, Ukraine.

Our human rights organization has repeatedly drawn the attention of the OSCE and the UN Human Rights Council to the necessity of restoring the rights of the religious community of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) in the Ptycha village.

Numerous court rulings confirm that the said religious community is the legal owner of the building of the Holy Virgin Assumption church. At present, the community’s ownership right to the church is not contested by anyone.

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Since 2015, the adherents of the religious organization of the Kyiv Patriarchate, with the support of some radical organizations, have been recurrently trying to violently overtake the church. To achieve these goals, they committed violent seizures, initiated legal actions, and exerted pressure on local authorities, who on their part took various actions to either abolish the community’s ownership right to the church or to overtake it in any other possible way.
For instance, on 17.11.2015, Ptycha Village Council, adopted decision No. 25 to establish the shared use of the church building by the two parties to the conflict. Another decision of the Ptycha Village Council No. 324 as of 22.03.2017 was, in fact, another attempt to transfer the church to the community of the Kyiv Patriarchate by means of a local referendum, despite the existence of the court ruling confirming the ownership right of the UOC community to the church. The two above-mentioned decisions of the Ptycha Village Council were ultimately canceled after the community of the UOC had filed relevant lawsuits.

It is noteworthy that over the course of 2016-2017 the community of the Kyiv Patriarchate unsuccessfully initiated a number of trials to abolish the ownership right of the UOC community to the church building. All their claims were rejected by the court.

As can be seen from the above, after the UOC had won the trials, its community should have taken the possession of the church and use it without any obstacles, while the local authorities had to facilitate this by every possible means.

Instead, on January 19, 2016, the church was arrested under article 170 of the Criminal Procedure Code of Ukraine within one of the lawsuits that had been initiated upon the claims of the conflicting parties.

In fact, this article does entitle courts to arrest property, but only in the event, if there is sufficient grounds for the belief that such property has been an object, means, or an instrument of a criminal violation, or has been an evidence of a crime, or has been gained as a result of commission of a criminal violation and/or is proceeds of such. Even if the church building is considered by the investigative authorities as evidence to be preserved, all the necessary procedural activities could have been accomplished over a two year period. Moreover, since 2016 the investigative authorities should have already taken decision to either close the criminal proceedings or refer the case to a court. But neither has been done.

Obviously, the church building in the circumstances of this case can not be attributed to any of the categories of property that can be subject to court arrest. Consequently, the arrest has been applied unreasonably and unlawfully. This means that the criminal proceedings along with the court ruling to arrest the church building are the result of a political decision of local authorities who fail to prevent obvious and public violations of the rights of the worshippers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The community of the UOC, being a law-abiding legal person, has used its right to challenge the arrest, and since 2016 has filed motions to revoke property arrest with a view to renewing the performance of divine services in the church.

On April 2, 2018, the court ordered to revoke the arrest. However, on the same day the church building was violently seized by unknown armed persons. The police officers, who arrived at the scene of the crime, protected of the seized building preventing the legitimate owner, the UOC community, from entering the territory and the church itself, without taking any action to detain the real offenders.

On April 3, 2018, the church was again arrested on the basis of the appeal of the law enforcement authorities in a new criminal proceeding.

All these facts testify not only to the fact that law enforcement officials have committed gross violations of the legislation of Ukraine as well as the norms of international law, but also attest to the fact that government authorities are reluctant to defend human rights when it comes to believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

In this way, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is apparently discriminated against in an overt and public manner.

In this regard, we draw the attention of the Ukrainian authorities to the position set forth in the report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief of (A/HRC/28/66), stating that “Violations of human rights do not only originate from the State; they are quite often carried out by non-State actors. Nonetheless, the State bears a responsibility for such acts inasmuch as they may reflect inadequate human rights protection. A first step towards providing protection against violence in the name of religion is a quick and unequivocal condemnation of any such acts, whenever they occur, by high representatives of the State. State representatives should indeed take the lead in rejecting violence, expressing sympathy for victims and providing public support for targeted individuals or groups. Violent attacks targeting members of groups that face systematic discrimination in the name of religion should be understood as attacks on the entire society”.

We believe that in the circumstances described herein, the officials of Rivne region and local law enforcement bodies have at least to publicly condemn the violent actions of the armed seizure of the church, expressing their support for the legitimate owner of the building, as well as show their respect for private property rights, and the right of the Ukrainian citizens to freely profess their faith in their own church building.

Therefore, NGO “Public Advocacy”, being in consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council:

  1. Urges Ukraine to publicly condemn the act of armed aggression against the peaceful community of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the Ptycha village, Rivne region, and immediately promote the restoration of the legitimate rights of the owner of the church.
  2. Appeals to the UN Human Rights Council within the established international procedure for individual complaints submission.
  3. Reports to the UN Special Rapporteur on religion and freedom or belief within the established international procedure for handling individual complaints.
  4. Appeals to the OSCE SMM, which within its area of competence has been monitoring the situation in the village of Ptycha since 2015.
  5. Appeals to the National Police of Ukraine, the Security Service of Ukraine, the General Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine and the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights for urgent and relevant response.[/su_spoiler]

Historical Background

On December 26, 2014, a religious community of vlg.Ptycha was attacked by a group of people. The attacking side, with the direct support of the radical organization “Right Sector”, cut the locks, seized the church, motivating their actions that part of the local villagers had decided upon assignment of the church belonging to the UOC community for the benefit of another entity – the religious community of the Kyiv Patriarchate. The church is  actually occupied by the representatives of another religious denomination, the Kyiv Patriarchate.

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On April 20, 2014, the religious community of  the  UOC  of  vlg.  Ptycha  tried  to  administer in  the  church  building  belonging  to  it,  but representatives  of  the  Kyiv  Patriarchate prevented the UOC believers from completing the  service,  seized  the  church,  organized resistance and did not allow in the owner (the UOC community) to end the divine service in the  religious  building.  Consequently, under strong  pressure  from  supporters  of  the Kyiv  Patriarchate,  representatives  of  local authorities decided to seal the church until the Kiev  Patriarchate  took  legal  action  and  court proceedings  were  over. The  UOC  community had  to  administer  services  in  the  senior priest’s  garage,  adjusted  for  religious  needs. In September 2015, the Economic Court made a decision that the owner of the church is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the community of the UOC-KP does not have any title rights to the church premises. However, despite the obvious legal judgment, the supporters of the Kiev  Patriarchate  continued  to  make  raider attempts.

On  November  1,  2015,  in  a  room  of  the Ptycha  village  council,  Petro  A.  Shevchuk,  a representative  of  the  religious  community  of the UOC-KP,  took (according to the testimony – stole)  the  keys  to  the  church,  carried  by the  head  of  the  village  council.  As  a  result, representatives of the Kiev Patriarchate again  seized the church.

On  07.11.2015,  the  representatives  of  the UOC-KP  of  vlg.  Ptycha,  led  by  their  senior priest,  Ihor  Zahrebelny,  unlocked  the  church and got into it. However, after the arrival of law enforcement  officers,  the  UOC-KP  adherents started  to  go  home.  The  UOC  community requested  that  the  deputy  chief  of  Internal Affairs of Ukraine in Rivne region should hang extra  locks  on  the  church.  When  the  request was  met,  the  UOC  community  peacefully dispersed.

On  08.11.2015,  the  representatives  of  the religious  community  of  the  UOC-KP  decided to stain the gate and Fr. Nicholai’s bench with faeces. However, once the UOC-KP supporters learned about the arrival of the reporters of the national TV channel «1 + 1», they personally cleaned  up  the  previously  marred  gates  and the bench.

On  15.11.2015,  the  representatives  of  the UOC-KP  (20  women)  got  inside  the  church, demanding  the  abolition  of  the  title  rights  of the UOC community of vlg. Ptycha. Realizing that they failed to obtain it legally, they locked themselves inside the church, and declared a pseudo-hunger strike. It is known that at the time of  these  events,  the  UOC-KP  representatives openly and regularly carried food in and toilet buckets  out. A  separate  sign  of  disrespect  to the  sanctuary  is  the  fact  that  the  people  who seized the church used it as a toilet and directly defecated inside the building.

On  November  16,  2015, negotiations  were held  between  the  representative  of  the  UOC and  the  UOC-KP  in  Rivne  Regional  State Administration, chaired by Alexander Savchuk (deputy  chairman  of  Rivne  Regional  State Administration) The meeting was attended by  the head of Dubno DSA and law enforcement  officials. Exerting pressure on the negotiators,  Alexander Savchuk forced the UOC to transfer the church to the Kyiv Patriarchate. In particular, A. Savchuk called the head of Ptycha village council for taking a local decision on alternate service. On the same day, the religious community of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in protest blocked the road of international importance “Kyiv-Chop”.

On 17.11.2015, Ptycha village council, chaired by the village head, in presence of the chairman of Dubno RSA, law enforcement officials and representatives of the UOC-KP (I. Zahrebelny) and UOC (V. Buha), made a decision, according to which there was granted permission for alternate service in the church according to the schedule fixed by the two denominations. The decision was appealed in court by the UOC community.

On 18.12.2015, the UOC community of vlg. Ptycha tried to hold worship in the church. But the community of the UOC-KP, supported by members of the radical organization “Right Sector”, attacked the UOC believers and beat the clergy and parishioners. Law enforcement officers, who  had arrived at the scene, were inactive. Also, the head of the organization “Right  Sector”  made  an  official  statement  that  if  the  UOC  community  did  not  leave  the  church, they were determined to seize all the Orthodox  churches  in  Rivne  region.  In  the attack  on  the  faithful,  representatives  of  the UOC-Kyiv Patriarchate and the «Right Sector» used  batons,  clubs,  electric  shocks,  cold weapons,  tear  and  pepper  gas. According  to eyewitnesses, the police at some point began to beat parishioners together with representatives of UOC-KP. Also the reports attest to the fact that the police neither detained nor stopped the representatives  of  the  Kyiv  Patriarchate  who beat  the  UOC  parishioners  with  long  sticks, threw  “Molotov  cocktail”  and  used  electric shocks, fire extinguishers and tear gas sprays. There are registered facts when the police lined up in front of the disputed church and did not allow the legal owners – the UOC believers – to get into the building that belongs to them.

On 21.12.2015, negotiations were held under the  supervision  of  the  prosecutor  of  Dubno district.  He,  like  other  officials,  insisted  on  the transition  of  the  church  building  for  alternate use to representatives of the UOC-KP. Later in the day talks with the deputy of Rivne Regional State  Administration  were  carried  out.  They were attended by representatives of the Security Service, the Main Department of Internal Affairs of Ukraine in Rivne region, the head of Dubno District  State  Administration,  spokespersons of the UOC and UOC-KP. But the negotiations resulted  in  no  compromise  achieved.  Some state  officials  exerted  discriminatory  pressure on  the  UOC  religious  community,  calling  for alternate use of the church for the reason that the majority of residents of the village allegedly voted for the transition under the «jurisdiction» of the UOC-KP. The Security Service officers were reported to threaten the UOC clergy and faithful with criminal prosecution under the false pretext.

On 22.12.2015, one of the protesters in the church, a parishioner of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, suffered anaphylactic shock and was hospitalized.

On  23.12.2015,  the  parishioners  of  the Ukrainian Orthodox Church locked themselves up in the church and for five days did not get any  food  and  water.  They  also  suffered  from cold  in  an  unheated  room.  On  the  same  day the UOC faithful picketed Rivne Regional State Administration, demanding  the  resignation of  the  Deputy  Chairman  of  Regional  State Administration  Alexander  Savchuk  and protection of the believers’ rights. As a result, talks were held with the Deputy Chairman of the Regional  State  Administration  Y.Y.  Pryvarsky, which led to an agreement that people in the church would be changed; the light and heating would be on.

On 25.12.2015, representatives of the Kyiv Patriarchate  picketed  Rivne  Regional  State Administration  and  Rivne  Regional  Council with  a  demand  to  recognize  the  Ukrainian Orthodox  Church  separatists,  to  cancel  the decision  confirming  title  rights  of  the  UOC community to the church in vlg. Ptycha. Rivne Regional Council decided to refer a statement on  the  abolition  of  private  ownership  of  the UOC community of religious buildings in Rivne region (48 votes) to state authorities.

It should be noted that during the escalation of inter-faith  conflict,  Rivne  Regional  State Administration  prepared  and  filed  an  appeal to the Court of Cassation against the decision of  the  court,  which  had  entered  into  force, grounding  their  actions  with  the  fact  that  the case must be heard by the Administrative Court. The cassation appeal of the state body contains only the above mentioned formal grounds and does not contain any allegations that the UOC is not the owner of the building or the decision of the court of first instance is in fact unjustified. So  the  public  authorities  made  a  step  aimed at prolongation of the conflict, giving the Kyiv Patriarchate supporters reason for hope that it may be revised and hence the statement on the title rights of the UOC community to the church is inconclusive and may be subject to judicial review.  Meanwhile, the community of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is the registered owner of the church building and is not required to confirm in any additional way its entitlements to the church. The judicial process was initiated by the Kyiv Patriarchate.

A separate assessment should be given to the police, who, according to eyewitnesses, blocked food and water supply to the people trapped  in  the  church,  thus  actually committing acts that could be qualified as torture and inhuman treatment. Also, it should be  remembered  that  electricity  and  heating were  turned  off  in  the  church,  and  the  police prevented  the  resumption  of  power  and  heat supply to the people in the church. Food and water  supply,  as  well  as  the  resumption  of power and heat supply, became possible under active pressure from journalists and the UOC faithful on the regional leadership of the police and state administration.

 

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To learn more about religious freedom infringements committed against the UOC believers you are encouraged to consult our detailed reports and statements:

  1. Collection of Information Materials and Documents “Facts, Evidence and Claims Regarding Violations of the Rights of Believers and Religious Organizations of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in 2014-2016”.
  2. Written Statement of the NGO “Public Advocacy” within the United Nations 28th Universal Periodic Review on Ukraine.
  3. Written Statement of the NGO “Public Advocacy” on the violations against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church within the United Nations 37-th Regular Session.
  4. Statement of the NGO “Public Advocacy”