Yanukovych refuses to defend religious freedom in Ukraine


President Yanukovych has signed Draft Law no. 10221 on amendments to the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations.  In so doing he has ignored calls from Church leaders, religious organizations and a number of prominent Ukrainian intellectuals.

Once again the information has come from the Verkhovna Rada website with the decision backdated to 21 November, although in fact 30 days had passed since the draft law was passed to him for signature and 50 days since the bill was passed.

More detail can be found in the links below, for example, Draft Law 10221: the end to religious freedom?, however the concerns are briefly as follows.

1.  The fact that the amendments lend themselves open to various interpretations. This makes it extremely easy for officials to act in favour of one or another denomination or to stifle freedom of conscience.

This could, in theory, be any denomination, although the tendency has been marked under the current President for the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate to get very special treatment.

2.   The Law considerably complicates the procedure for registering religious organizations.  Two uncoordinated procedures are introduced for gaining legal entity status, with no clarity even as to which order the two procedures should be in.

3.   An increase in the number of regulatory bodies, with the list now extended to include the Prosecutor’s Office, the central body on religious matters (the Ministry of Culture); other ministries and local authorities.  As reported, the Institute for Religious Freedom has condemned this as a retrograde step hearkening back to the Soviet system of total control.

The law does not clearly stipulate who has authority in which area setting the grounds for arbitrary behaviour from officials

Other issues of concern include the retention of a permission-based system for holding peaceful gatherings which is in direct breach of Article 39 of the Constitution, as well as a provision giving the Ministry of Culture authority to agree the activities of foreign nationals, i.e. priests from abroad, teachers and students of religious establishments, volunteers, etc.

This is at very least the fifth dangerous law which the President has died despite urgent calls from specialists, interested groups and the public in general. 

News that the President has signed the bill, as well as details summarized above, from the Institute for Religious Freedom

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