UKRAINE: Russian hand behind Japanese monk's entry denial?
Ukraine's security police have refused to explain to Forum 18 News Service why Japanese Buddhist monk and teacher Junsei Teresawa was taken off the train from Poland last night (4 May) and refused entry, while his valid visa was cancelled. But security police spokesperson Marina Ostapenko vigorously denied it is because Ukraine is following Russia's secret police blacklist. "If Ukraine barred him entry he must have done something here," she insisted to Forum 18 News Service. "What's it got to do with Russia?" Teresawa described the ban to Forum 18 as "unjust, unreasonable and unconstitutional".
Ihelzon rejected these assertions. "Teresawa never broke the law on his many visits to Ukraine over the past fourteen years. In the opinion of our Order, this is a case of political and religious persecution." He insisted the SBU must give its reasons. "Why does our government and security service follow orders from another country – especially after our Orange Revolution?" he asked, referring to Russia. "I thought everything had changed now."
Teresawa, who is 54, was taken off the Warsaw to Lviv train at the border crossing at Mostiska. Ukrainian border guards cancelled his double-entry visa, stamping "annulled" across it, barred him entry for five years and issued him with a certificate signed by senior lieutenant O. Pits declaring that he had been denied entry on orders of the SBU (Forum 18 has seen copies of the cancelled visa and certificate).
SBU spokesperson Marina Ostapenko maintained that Teresawa had in fact been barred entry in July 2002 for five years under Article 25 of the law on the legal status of foreigners and those without citizenship. "His ban is in the interest of protecting the security of Ukraine," she told Forum 18 from Kiev on 5 May. She did not explain why Teresawa's passport was stamped to say that he has been barred until 4 May 2010 if he was blacklisted as far back as 2002.
Ostapenko refused to give any specific reason for the decision, citing "state secrecy", and resolutely rejected suggestions that Ukraine was following Russia's blacklist. "If Ukraine barred him entry he must have done something here," she insisted. "What's it got to do with Russia?"
Ihelzon said Teresawa – well known as a pacifist who has organised numerous peace camps and marches - has been visiting Buddhist communities in the former Soviet republics since 1991. "He was denied entry to Russia and placed on the Russian FSB [security service] entry blacklist in June 2000 after protesting against the war in Chechnya," Ihelzon told Forum 18. "The Russian blacklist is transferred to other CIS countries."
He said the monk was denied entry to Ukraine at Kiev's Boryspil airport in February 2004 despite having a valid visa. However, he was able to enter Ukraine in December after the change of regime known as the Orange Revolution. It remains unclear why he has once again been barred.
Teresawa insisted that his sole purpose in travelling to Ukraine was to teach and said he had intended to stay about two weeks. "I have disciples I'm responsible for teaching," he told Forum 18 from the Polish town of Przemysl on 5 May. "I'm not a missionary." Describing the ban as "unjust, unreasonable and unconstitutional", he attributed it to Russia's dislike of his outspoken criticism of its human rights violations in the Chechen war.
Teresawa has been able to visit Kyrgyzstan and Georgia without problem since being blacklisted by Russia, though Kazakhstan and Ukraine have traditionally followed the Russian blacklist. Teresawa confirmed to Forum 18 he has been denied entry to Kazakhstan three times, most recently in March 2004.
Ostapenko of the SBU said some 6,000 foreign citizens have been denied entry to Ukraine over the past five years. "We don't separate them out into those barred on religious grounds and other grounds."
Among other foreign religious leaders denied entry in the past are American Protestant David Binkley, who was barred at Boryspil airport in July 2000 despite having a valid visa, and Ukrainian-born Moldovan citizen Father Nicolae Asargiu, an Orthodox priest of the Bessarabian jurisdiction, who was expelled and barred entry for five years in 1998 after "violating the law on religion" by working in his native village in Odessa region. In Binkley's case, he was barred "permanently" from Russia and was subsequently denied entry to Kazakhstan.
Russia has continued to ban foreign religious figures it does not like (see F18News 4 May 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=555).
Ihelzon told Forum 18 that all five communities of his Buddhist Order in Ukraine have been given registration by the government and do not face any problems. "Four or five years ago we had a lot of problems getting registration, but there's no problem now." He welcomed the abolition on orders of the new president Viktor Yushchenko of the State Committee for Religious Affairs.
For a personal commentary on Ukraine's abolition of the State Committee for Religious Affairs, see F18News 16 March 2005 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=526).
A printer-friendly map of Ukraine is available at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/atlas/index.html?Parent=europe&Rootmap=ukrain
16 March 2005
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's surprise announcement last month of the abolition of the State Committee for Religious Affairs is a powerful signal to the rest of the region that governments should end their meddling in religious life, argues former Soviet political prisoner Professor Myroslav Marynovych, who is now vice-rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University http://www.ucu.edu.ua in Lviv, in this personal commentary for Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org. He regards the feeling in Ukraine that the communist model of controlling religion is now dead as the greatest gain of the "Orange Revolution" in the sphere of religion. Yet Professor Marynovych warns that other countries will find it hard to learn from the proclaimed end of Ukrainian government interference in religious matters without wider respect for human rights and accountable government. Without democratic change – which should bring in its wake greater freedom for religious communities from state control and meddling - it is unlikely that religious communities will escape from government efforts to control them.
9 September 2004
Ahead of the OSCE Conference on Tolerance and the Fight against Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination on 13-14 September 2004 in Brussels, Forum 18 News Service http://www.forum18.org surveys some of the more serious discriminatory actions against religious believers that persist in some countries of the 55-member OSCE. Despite their binding OSCE commitments to religious freedom, in some OSCE member states believers are still fined, imprisoned for the peaceful exercise of their faith, religious services are broken up, places of worship confiscated and even destroyed, religious literature censored and religious communities denied registration. Forum 18 believes most of the serious problems affecting religious believers in the eastern half of the OSCE region come from government discrimination.
2 December 2003
In this personal commentary contributed to Forum 18 News Service www.forum18.org , Arie de Pater, director of Jubilee Campaign NL, argues that the European Union (EU) should pay greater attention to restrictions on religious freedom in many of the ten states which will join the EU in May 2004 (Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia & Slovenia) and in states that hope to join any further expansion (Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania & Turkey potentially due from 2007). Drawing on a report on religious freedom in the candidate countries, compiled by Jubilee Campaign NL with the assistance of Forum 18 and others, published today (2 December 2003), he notes that even in the first batch of accession countries, criticism of religious law and practice can be levelled at the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia. He questions why the European Commission's 2003 Comprehensive Regular Report makes no criticism of Bulgaria's new denominations act, which has been sharply criticised in Bulgaria and abroad.