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 ($10,000) 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)