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
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
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
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
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.