04/11/2013, 00.00

Duma gives first green light to anti-blasphemy law in Russia

Nina Achmatova
Approved by Members on first hearing, the draft law against attacks on religious sentiment hardens penalties with up to five years in prison for those who commit sacrilegious acts. According to surveys, the Russians are in favor, but for human rights activists it sets a dangerous precedent.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The State Duma (lower house of the Russian parliament) has approved the draft bill of the so-called "law against blasphemy and acts which offend the religious sentiment". The document, approved on 9 April, (criticized by human rights activists, but supported by the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate and most influential minority communities) provides for stiffer penalties for those who offend religious values ​​or commit actions deemed sacrilegious in places of worship.

Supporters of the bill say it  aims to defend traditional Russian values ​​, where the Church and religion - they say -  are being targeted by a visible "anti-religious propaganda organized by enemies outside the country." Pussy Riot, the band feminist that staged a brief anti-Putin prayer punk in the cathedral of Moscow are used as an example of this theory. Two of its members are currently serving two years in prison in a labor camp as a result. During the trial they were accused of having offended the religious feelings of the faithful. For which the girls apologized, saying that it was a protest of a political nature.

For Yaroslav Nilov - head of the Duma's Social and Religious Commission and co-author of the bill - the case Pussy Riot shows that the traditional beliefs of the country need adequate legislation to protect them. Nilov, a member of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, said that "no one wants more gulags."

The draft also increases fines from the current 1,000 rubles (32 dollars) to 300 thousand rubles (10 thousand dollars) for "publically insulting the faith and humiliation during liturgical services." The crime could carry up to three years' imprisonment or 200 hours of community service. For the desecration and destruction of religious objects, places of worship and pilgrimage, the fines will range from 100 to 500 thousand rubles, up to 400 hours mandatory social service or up to five years in prison.

The Presidential Council for Human Rights had already criticized the vague wording of the proposed law against blasphemy last November, which could result in many miscarriages of justice.

Responding to criticism Mikhail Markelov - deputy of the ruling United Russia party and another author of the draft law - recited data of a survey of the State institute VTsIOM, according to which 82% of Russians are in favor of the bill , especially after a succession of acts of vandalism against religious symbols: soiling of icons, crosses axed and chopped up in several parts of the country.


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