Rivne, March 19, 2019
Having already issued mass summons for questioning to Rivne priests twice, the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) is now targeting one priest in particular, who has managed to save 30 parishes from schism over the years.
On March 12, Archpriest Viktor Zemlyany, the head of the Rivne Diocese’s Department for the Settlement of Interfaith Conflicts, was handed a summons by the SSU Deputy Head in Rivne for questioning as a witness in a criminal case involving the incitement of religious enmity, reports the Union of Orthodox Journalists.
Over the years, Fr. Viktor has managed to secure the return of three churches that had been seized by schismatics and to prevent the seizure of another 27. Of course, such work has earned him enemies among the authorities, schismatics, and nationalists.
Fr. Viktor was handed the summons upon returning home, having just read the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete on the second day of Great Lent.
He arrived at the SSU offices with his lawyer, his faithful parishioners, and clergy from throughout the diocese at the appointed time. Fr. Viktor was released after 2.5 hours of interrogation, having been given a notice of suspicion under article 161 of the criminal code concerning discrimination based on race, nationality, or religion. The article provides for criminal liability for actions aimed at inciting national, racial, or religious hatred and enmity.
Fr. Viktor is not allowed to reveal the questions he was asked, but his parishioners believe the interrogation was based on the Church literature that was seized during earlier searches. They met their priest following the interrogation with tears and flowers. The people invited the interrogator to visit their church and see for himself that the suspicions against Fr. Viktor are absurd, and that he constantly prays for the SSU employees.
The interrogator told the parishioners, “Now you pray for him.”
In an interview with First Cossack, Fr. Viktor then explained that a criminal case had been opened against him to counteract his activity in protecting the rights of the believers of the canonical Church.
The archpriest said he has no fear and that those who violate the rights of believers should fear the wrath of God. “I have no fear, everything is in God’s will. We will never stop on this road. Those people who do this need to fear the wrath of God, first of all… This is actually pressure on me as a priest so I wouldn’t fulfill my duties,” Fr. Viktor says.
A slanderous campaign in the media already exists against Fr. Viktor, and he and his family have received a number of threats. He is slandered as a “mouthpiece for the Kremlin” for having given interviews to Russian outlets, and the SSU has been pressuring him in connection with the organization of 2016’s All-Ukrainian cross procession. In 2017, he was searched, and his personal belongings and religious literature were seized, which was the main basis for the opening of the criminal proceedings against him.
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