Moscow (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has decided to postpone until next spring the adoption of the so-called "law against blasphemy and acts which offend religious sentiment." This was announced by Russian agencies, while a source of the newspaper Vedomosti said that, in this way, the authorities hope to achieve greater involvement of public opinion on the draft law, which has been criticized by human rights activists, but received the consensus of the Moscow Patriarchate and of the most influential minority communities.
The document proposes penalties ranging from fines of up to 300,000 rubles (,000) to three years' imprisonment for "publicly insulting the faith and for humiliations during liturgical services." For desecrating and destroying religious objects, in places of worship and on pilgrimages, the fines range from 100,000 to 500,000 rubles, mandatory labor of up to 400 hours or up to five years in prison.
The text was submitted to the Duma in late September, in the wake of the controversy raised by the case involving the Pussy Riot, the girls of the Russian feminist punk band sentenced to two years in prison for an anti-Putin performance, in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. During the trial, the prosecution relied on their having allegedly offended the feelings of the Orthodox faithful.
In early November, at a meeting of the Council for Human Rights with Putin, some leading activists criticized the vague wording of the proposed law against blasphemy, which could result in many miscarriages of justice. "Feeling," Irina Khakamada explained to the head of the Kremlin, "is a vague term and not a legal one." The activist was echoed by the Supreme Court, which in a formal opinion warned that applying the law as formulated will be difficult if works like "worship" and "religious traditions" are not clarified.
Supporters of stiffer penalties for blasphemy - including not only the Russian Orthodox Church but also Muslim leaders - argue that the law is needed to curb the growing conflicts within the society in the field of religion. According to a survey of the State institute Vtsiom, 82% of Russians are in favor of the legislative initiative, especially after a succession of acts of vandalism against religious symbols: from the defiling of icons, to crosses torn and broken in several areas of the country. "This broad consensus in society," said the head of the Synodal Department for Relations between State and Society, the Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, "is a clear sign that many were waiting for this initiative." (NA)