Moscow (AsiaNews) - As of today, anyone "Causing offense to the feelings of religious believers" faces up to three years in prison, after President Vladimir Putin signed into law the so-called anti-blasphemy bill. Under the legislation, Moscow has increases penalties and fines for those who insult the feelings of religious believers. Although backing the law, the Russian Orthodox Church finds the legislation not harsh enough.
"Public acts that manifest patent disrespect for society and are committed with the aim of offense to the religious feelings of believers" are punishable with fines of a maximum of 300,000 roubles (US 9,000) or the offender's salary for a maximum period of two years, compulsory labour for up to one year, or a maximum prison term of one year if such acts are committed outside places of worship or other religious sites.
If the offense is committed in religious places, the fine goes up to 500,000 roubles (US$ 15,000), three years of community service and three years of imprisonment.
The measures are contained in amendments to Article 148 of the Criminal Code on "Obstruction of the Exercise of the Right of Liberty of Conscience and Religious Liberty".
Another part of the bill deals with "deliberate public acts of vandalism" against religious literature, "items of religious veneration" or religious symbols.
Such acts carry fines of 30,000 to 50,000 roubles (US$ 900 to 1,500) or compulsory labour for a period of up 120 hours for ordinary people and fines of between 100,000 and 200,000 roubles (US$ 3,000 to 6,000) for officials.
The new law would also raise the maximum fine for the obstruction of religious activities as allowed by Article 148 from 80,000 (US$ 2,500) to 300,000 roubles (US$ 9,000).
Following the Pussy Riot scandal, the Moscow Patriarchate has pushed hard for the new law. During the incident, members of the feminist punk rock band staged an anti-Putin performance in Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow last year.
Two of the women who participated in the so-called "punk prayer" are serving a two-year sentence in a labour camp for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred."
A series of acts of vandalism against religious symbols in different parts of the country followed the incident, with icons soiled and crosses torn and broken.
Although the law has been criticised within the Russian Orthodox Church for its severity, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, head of the Russian Orthodox Church's Department for the Cooperation of Church and Society, described the new penalties as "too mild," saying that three years in prison "are not enough."
In an interview with Channel Mir-24, Chaplin noted that the actions banned by the new law "are very serious" and could lead to true "bloodshed".
Earlier, anonymous sources within the Moscow Patriarchate told AsiaNews that, "Unfortunately, rather than educate society, this leads to repression,"
For their part, human rights activists are concerned that anyone who criticises the close relationship between the Church and the state might be censored to protect religious feelings.
The Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights had criticised the first draft, saying that the wording was too vague and could result in the miscarriage of justice.
One drafters of the law, Mikhail Markelov, a Duma Member for the ruling party United Russia, responded to the criticism citing recent surveys by Vtsiom State institute, according to which 82 per cent of Russians are in favour of the new law.