Press Release: Ukraine Press Freedoms Curtailed Following Raids and Arrests of the Orthodox Union of Journalists


Save the UOC Editor

The following press release was distributed to media today:

WASHINGTON DC – Following a coordinated raid on 11 different locations in and around Kyiv by the secret police (Security Service of Ukraine, SBU) and the confirmed arrests of four journalists affiliated with the Union of Orthodox Journalists (UOJ), international lawyer Robert Amsterdam has condemned the move as an attack on freedom of expression.

Amsterdam, whose firm Amsterdam & Partners LLP represents the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), says that the UOJ represents one of the very few Ukrainian news outlets reporting on the unlawful seizures and raids of church properties by the state church. During these raids, the secret police seized phones and laptops, and, according to the UOJ, those arrested could face charges with penalties of life imprisonment.

“Unquestionably, these raids, arrests, and threats against members of the media have been coordinated to generate enthusiasm for the recently revised Draft Bill 8371 to ban the Ukrainian Orthodox Church,” says Amsterdam. “Based on the information provided by our sources, these raids by the secret police are NOT evidence-based. They have been choreographed by the SBU to stir up fear and animosity and further divide a country at war, and must be condemned by international press freedom organizations.”

Amsterdam’s firm has previously published a white paper highlighting the violations of international human rights law contained in Draft Law 8371, and advocated for Ukraine to present the law before the Venice Commission for input. The ruling party in the Verkhovna Rada, however, has thus far kept the law hidden from EU institutions, and appears to be rushing forward to pass it into law, says Amsterdam.

Amsterdam points out that Ukraine already has preexisting legal instruments to prosecute those who collaborate with the enemy – as was the case with the purge of dozens of SBU officers who had ties to Russia. But these raids on journalists covering the UOC issues are aimed at expanding their repressive powers, says Amsterdam.

“There is absolutely no conceivable pretext making it necessary for Ukraine to ban an entire religion and erase the thousand-year-old home of Christianity – none whatsoever,” says Amsterdam. “This ongoing politically motivated attack against the UOC does no service to Ukraine’s interests and undermines the unity of the population at a critical time.”

Amsterdam indicated that he would be filing letters before numerous organizations and government bodies seeking censure against this media crackdown, and further to initiate consideration of sanctions against individual members of the Rada engaged in violating religious freedoms, including Speaker Ruslan Stefanchuk.

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