A court in Russia is making a priest pay a fine for online criticism of Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, reported Forum 18, an Oslo-based religious freedom organization.
“I am a priest and have the right to denounce evil, regardless of who is involved and the political situation,” said Fr. Nikandr Pinchuk, a monk who belongs to a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) that did not join the Moscow Patriarchate with other parts of ROCOR in 2007.
On Monday, Fr. Pinchuk, 50, became the first person to receive a criminal conviction for opposing Russia’s war in Ukraine on religious grounds. In front of a court in the Ural Mountains, where he lives, he pleaded guilty to repeatedly “discrediting” the Russian Armed Forces. He was fined 100,000 rubles ($1,629) – about two months’ average local wage. He said that he earns barely 15,000 rubles ($244) a month.
The charge came under a new law which prohibits “public actions aimed at discrediting the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation in order to protect the interests of the Russian Federation and its citizens … and public calls to prevent the use of the Armed Forces for these purposes.”
At issue was a social media post in which the priest condemned the “horde of the Antichrist” attacking Ukraine.
He claims that he was deceived into pleading guilty because prosecutors said they would seek a lighter sentence.
But he said he did not admit guilt in the sense of remorse for supporting Ukraine. He is considering whether or not to appeal.
“I want to clarify that they are trying to repress me precisely because of my rejection of the ‘special operation’, which they classify as ‘discrediting the Russian Armed Forces’,” Fr Pinchuk told Forum 18.
“A spiritual matter”
Meanwhile, another ROCOR priest, Fr. Ioann Kurmoyarov, is due to go on trial in St. Petersburg on November 14. He is being prosecuted for posting videos on his YouTube channel in which he criticizes the Moscow Patriarchate’s support for the war. The priest suggested that the “aggressors” will not go to heaven and argued that “every condemnation of this aggression, this war on Ukraine, is a spiritual matter. All Christians should do it on principle.”
Other religious figures whose statements and positions have gotten them into trouble since Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine began include Russian Orthodox priest Fr. Ioann Burdin of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Kostroma Diocese, who was fined a month’s average local wages for online remarks and a Sunday sermon in church condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and stressing the importance of the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill;” Moscow Patriarchate Deacon Sergey Shcherbyuk in Samara, who was fined about a month’s average local wages for “discrediting the Russian armed forces” in conversations with parishioners and colleagues; and several Russian Orthodox priests who have resigned from their posts after their opposition to the war brought them into conflict with their Moscow Patriarchate dioceses.
Many protestors have been fined under a law signed by Putin on March 4 that prohibits “discrediting the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.”