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State Duma plans to pass bill on protection of religious feelings by end of autumn session

September 26, 2012, 16:09 UTC+3

The bill carries fines of up to 300,000 roubles, or compulsory labour for a term of up to 200 hours, or a prison term of up to three years for public insults of religious feelings

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MOSCOW, September 26 (Itar-Tass) —— The committee for public associations and religious organizations of the Russian State Duma lower parliament house hopes a law envisaging criminal liability for insulting feelings of god believers will be passed befor the end of the autumn session.

According to one of the bill’s authors, the chairman of that committee, Yaroslav Nilov of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), Duma regulations bind it to obtain an opinion on the bill from the Russian government and the Supreme Court. “The committee cannot begin considering the bill until it receives these documents,” he told Itar-Tass. “We have sent relevant letter and hope that both the government and the Supreme Court would speed up the process, taking into account the urgency of the subject.” So, he said the document might be passed in the three readings during the current session.

Nilov reiterated his faction’s commitment to vote in favor of the bill. “The subject is highly topical, the flood of anti-religious provocations is gaining force, not only in Russia but across the globe,” he noted.

“Those who are not engaged in provocative actions and who have no ill will have nothing to fear,” he stressed. “But those who plot anti-religious provocations, well, we must react to such things.” He reminded that under the current laws, a person who destroys religious books such as the Torah or the Koran in public is to be fined from 500 to 1,000 roubles. “It is a miserably small fine,” he said. “If the state is not tough enough to such cases people would step in to put things at rights.”

According to the committee’s deputy chairman, Sergei Popov of United Russia, speculations that the bill provides for any kind of retaliatory measures represent a “non- professional, non-expert approach.”

“The thing is that the current Criminal Code has no such crimes,” he told Itar-Tass. In his words, European countries “long ago shaped their positions on that matter: Austria, Italy, Germany, Poland and many other countries, all have established similar liability [as in Russia’s bill].” “If we dare to call ourselves a civilized, law-ruled state, it would be right to look at the European experience,” he stressed.

He also cited the results of a recent poll conducted by the All-Russia Public Opinion Centre (VCIOM), when a total of 82 percent of the polled supported the idea of criminal liability for such actions. “From 60 to 70 percent of our population say they are believers. So, the question is of paramount importance,” he said.

The Communist faction also spoke in favor of tougher responsibility for hurting religious feelings. “We are among those who support the bill,” Sergei Obukhov of the Communist Party, another deputy chairman of the Duma committee, told Itar-Tass. In his words, back in 2008 a similar document won support of only the Communist and LDPR factions because “they said then that the situation was tranquil and there was no need in tougher laws.”

He drew attention to the fact that back in the Soviet era “such actions [insulting religious feelings] were subject to criminal prosecution.” “The wording was vaguer but the punishment varied from a reprimand to criminal liability,” he said.

“The state is obliged to protect the right of its citizens to religious beliefs,” Obukhov stressed. “Anti- religious campaigns can destabilize society. Stricter responsibility for insulting the feelings of believers is needed to maintain peace, stability and security.”

Earlier in the day, a bill on the protection of citizens’ religious feelings and beliefs was submitted to the Russian State Duma, or lower parliament house. It was initiated by the Duma committee for the affairs of public associations and religious organizations. The bill provides for both administrative and criminal responsibility for such actions.

The document envisages a number of amendments to the Russian Criminal Code, such as a new article establishing punitive measures for “insulting religious beliefs and feelings of citizens and/or desecrating religious objects or places of worship.”

The bill carries fines of up to 300,000 roubles, or compulsory labour for a term of up to 200 hours, or a prison term of up to three years for public insults of religious feelings of public desecration of rituals of religious associations “professing religions that are part of the historical heritage of Russia’s peoples.”

Desecration or destruction of worship objects will carry a fine of from 100,000 to 50,000 roubles, or public works for up to 400 hours, or up to five years in custody.

Apart from that, amendments to the Code of Administrative Offence proved for fines of from 10,000 to 30,000 roubles for individuals, and from 50,000 to 100,000 roubles for officials who violate people’s right to freedom of religion.

Public profanation of religious books, terms of symbols will carry a fine of from 30,000 to 50,000 roubles.

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