Russia's State Duma plans new law to defend the rights of believers
following Pussy Riot protest
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By Roman Vorobyov, Combined Reports
6:41PM GMT 06 Nov 2012
A resolution in Russia seeking to protect religious groups against malicious
acts or insults could soon enter the statute book.
Russian parliamentary deputies have decided to stand up for the right of
religious believers not to be offended. The State Duma is working on a draft
resolution entitled On Protecting the Religious Feelings of Citizens of the
Russian Federation. Deputies of all Duma factions joined the group that
sponsored the resolution.
According to Yaroslav Nilov, head of the Duma’s social and religious
organisations committee, stricter legislation was needed following a recent
string of highly publicised incidents of religious hatred. The deputy singled
out the Pussy Riot punk prayer, as well as other
actions aimed at religious communities. “Icons have been desecrated in various
cities across the country,” he said.
“Temples and synagogues have been defaced with swastikas, satanic symbols and
various inscriptions. Islamic spiritual leaders were killed and hurt in two
high-profile terrorist attacks in Dagestan and Tatarstan. A wooden church was
burned down in Krasnodar and a Protestant prayer house in Moscow was demolished.
. . This is a challenge to peace in the country, and we have to respond in a
Deputies believe the current maximum penalty of a 1,000-rouble (£20) fine for
insulting religious feelings is too small. According to the proposed amendments,
desecration of objects of worship would mean up to five years in prison, 400
hours of mandatory community service or a 500,000-rouble (£10,000) fine.
Offending religious believers would warrant a 300,000-rouble (£6,000) fine, 200
hours of community service or up to three years in prison.
Representatives of the main religious communities have voiced their support
for the deputies’ initiative. According to Vsevolod Chaplin, a spokesman for the
Russian Orthodox Church, national security is at stake.
“Making an ethnic slur, desecrating objects of worship or insulting religious
feelings are very dangerous things these days,” he warned. “As we know, such
actions have led to many conflicts throughout history, resulting in bloodshed
and setting large numbers of people against each other.”
Russian Muslims have also stressed national security concerns. In particular,
they back the government’s intention to enforce a ban on the distribution of the
controversial Innocence of Muslims video.
Moscow’s mufti Albir Krganov said: “It is very important for the government
to understand the feelings of its society, its people. In countries where
officials didn’t react in time, where people didn’t find understanding and
support from the authorities, they poured into the streets in protest.”
The Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia has also taken an official
stand in support of the deputies. “It is very important to increase the
penalties for offending religious feelings, especially in view of the
anti-clerical campaigns under way in various countries at the moment,” its
president, Alexander Boroda, told Interfax-Religiya.
But the proposals also have their critics. Lyubov Borusyak, a sociologist and
associate professor at the Higher School of Economics, says the law would leave
too many loopholes for abuse.
“Such a law could never work universally by definition. There’s a crime to be
followed by a punishment. It is always going to be selective; it will always be
arbitrary, because it’s impossible to describe specific actions subject to this
law. And if this is impossible, you can apply the law to anything you like,” she
told BBC Russia.
Kommersant FM radio commentator Konstantin Eggert believes existing
legislation is enough to protect believers. “New laws would amount to nothing
more than an attempt to impose censorship… which would cause a future backlash
against the church,” he said.
Some representatives of religious communities are also uneasy about the
initiative. Rabbi Michael Yedvabny shares Mr Eggert’s concerns. “The Criminal
Code already contains penalties for inciting religious or ethnic hatred, as well
as for religion- or ethnicity-related hate crimes.
“The proposed punishment for offending religious feelings dangerously
encroaches on the concept of freedom of speech,” he said.
Archpriest Pavel Velikanov, Protector of the Moscow Orthodox Spiritual
Academy, also has doubts about the proposals. He said: “I feel uncomfortable
that a person who claims to be a believer would receive some kind of exclusive
status relative to another person.
“I cannot understand why the status of an ordinary person who isn’t claiming
any religious affinity should be inferior to that of a religious person
demanding some kind of protection.”
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