Published On: Mon, Mar 4th, 2024

Vladimir Putin banned me from Russia but now I am also fearful for human rights in Ukraine | Politics | News

A leading international human rights lawyer has told that he is fearful for the lives of opposition politicians and Orthodox priests in Ukraine after witnessing terrifying actions by the country’s secret police.

Robert Amsterdam told that he supports helping Ukraine fight Russia and has himself been banned from Russia by Vladimir Putin for raising human rights abuses there.

But he warned that the West must use its influence on President Volodymyr Zelensky and his government to prevent serious human rights abuses particularly targeted at the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC).

The UK Government has already confirmed it is keeping an eye on the situation but the Zelensky government has moved to ban the UOC because they believe it is spying for Russia claiming its head is Patriarch Kirill in Moscow, an ally of Putin and former senior figure in the KGB.

Instead, a rival Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) was set up in 2019 which has the backing of the government.

Senior Republicans in the US have told that they elieve Zelensky’s criticism of the UOC is correct but Amsterdam has revealed that even MPs in Zelensky’s own party have serious concerns about the policy which has also attracted concerns from the Church of England.

Following a visit late last month, Amsterdam told “The UOC has been targeted for years. But really the targeting has been on steroids since December 1 of last year when Zelensky basically called out the dogs and many priests were arrested many priests were beaten.

“The war on the church is being conducted by the secret police. Everyone I met was interrogated afterward by the secret police.”

He went on: “One of the priests after he met me, had his home raided, and was interrogated so harshly that he had a heart attack.

“The day after he met me I was targeted. I had one meeting in a government office and after that meeting, I was doorstepped by a TV station, who then published an article and the interview just started what I said I was an agent of Patriarch Kirill.”

He described the accusation as “ridiculous” pointing to the fact he has been expelled and banned from Russia.

The state media TV station also revealed where he was staying in what Amsterdam believes was an attempt to get him killed.

He said that the accusations against the church have “no evidence”.

He said: “While a number of priests defected, the percentage of priests that defected versus the level of priests in the country is much lower than the percentage of secret police who defected to Russia. But nobody is calling for the outlawing of the secret police.”

The issue of Zelensky’s government becoming increasingly authoritarian was being raised before the war with complaints made by Hungary about the persecution of ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine.

Added to that one leading politician Oleksi Goncharenko highlighted how the government had barred MPs from travelling to conferences abroad and had drawn criticism from the European Council.

Amsterdam said: “It’s not a one off and it’s, it’s triggered by unlimited control by the executive of the secret police, unlimited levels of vicious hate propaganda on television, and a complicit West, which has decided that its media are going to be instruments of Ukraine, as opposed to being journalists.”

He went on: “If this was happening in any other country, there would be all sorts of Western criticism, demands for rule of law. But we just we just give Ukraine a free pass to persecute the church. And it’s shameful, it’s horrific to witness.

“I met one priest who was so badly beaten, he’ll never return to his church, 1500 churches have been stolen, raided by this new state church.”

He said the attack was on “the majority of the Orthodox Christians” in the country with the rival UOC churches “almost empty”.

The accusations could have long term implications with Ukraine hoping to join NATO and the European Union.

Neither are likely to happen if the country has a proven bad human rights record.

Amsterdam said that Ukraine should properly investigate through the rule of law if there were Russian sympathisers in the church.

He said: “If God forbid, the church still had people sympathetic to Russia the idea would be you gather evidence, and you charge them.

“But instead, they sanction people without evidence, and they charge innocence, and then force them, many of them have been forced into plea deals, because they can’t afford lawyers, and they’re threatened with these incitement charges.”

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