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Russian MPs pondering punishment for rasping believers' feelings

September 14, 2012, 17:17 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

Russian authorities have heeded the appeals of the Orthodox Church to append the Criminal Code with an article stipulating punishment for infliction of injuries on believers’ feelings.

Members of the State Duma committee for public associations and religious organizations have gotten down to drafting an appropriate document, committee chairman Yaroslav Nilov /the Liberal Democratic Party/ said. The MPs are also pondering some other steps aimed at averting tensions between the Church and society.

Criminal punishment is due to replace the administrative penalties existing at present.

“The administrative liability /for insulting believers’ feelings – Itar-Tass/ stands at a trifling sum today,” Nilov said. “If you drive through a red light, the fine will be a thousand rubles/USD 1=RUB 31.4/. On the other hand, if you insult millions of believers, you’ll also be supposed to pay a thousand rubles. That’s nonsense!”

“A person injuring the believers’ feelings, including /injuries/ through insulting or outrageous actions performed on venerated religious objects, holy images, or religious symbols, or through mocking or defaming, publicly or in the mass media, the individuals venerated by believers” will face a fine of 100,000 to 300,000 rubles if the newly drafted bill is passed into law, Nilov said.

An alternative for this has also been suggested – a jail term or coercive works for a period of two years.

Nilov indicated that, along with this, the committee members are unanimous in their conviction the problem of injuries inflicted upon believers’ feelings cannot be resolved solely by the introduction of criminal responsibility.

In the first place, the MPs say punishments for such crimes should be made inescapable. In the second, there is a need for a professional upgrading of the specialists who will be putting these punishments into practice.

“In the third place, this problem concerns general education,” Nilov said. “The situation may change only if a comprehensive approach is applied, as a simple tightening of punishments won’t work.”

Simultaneously, the same committee is drafting a Duma statement ‘On Support for the Russian Orthodox Church and Other Traditional Spiritual Institutes’. Before getting on vote in the lower house of Russian parliament, it will be discussed at a meeting of the governmental commission for religious associations that will be chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Vladislav Surkov.

The draft statement says, among other things, that the antireligious propaganda pursues the goal of seeding mistrust towards the Russian Orthodox Church as a carrier of traditional conservative and patriotic values, provoking revulsion against its active social position, putting religious and state institutes in an opposition to one another, and undermining Russia’s centuries-old spiritual and moral traditions.

State agencies will also consider possible punishments for infliction of damage on Church property and for the fomenting of religious strife.

An initial call for augmenting the Criminal Code with a clause on punishment for injuring the believers’ feelings came from the Russian Orthodox Church. The Right Reverend Vsevolod Chaplin, the chief of the Synod’s department for relations between the Church and society, urged the authorities to specify punishments for those who insult the Church and a similar proposal came Thursday, September 13, from mother Xenia /Chernega/, the chief of Moscow Patriarchate’s legal department who took the floor at a session of the Duma expert council for public associations and religious organizations.

President Putin on Thursday voiced an opinion much along the same lines in connection with the events in Libya where the Islamists had broken into the compound of the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi and killed the U.S. ambassador, an embassy worker, and two U.S. marines.

The incident in Benghazi occurred after the uploading on the Internet of a movie outraging on the religious feelings of Moslem believers. Putin said in this connection the government has a duty to react time and toughly to the acts that hurt the religious people’s feelings.

“All of us should treat with special care the religious feelings of people who belong to the most diverse denominations,” Putin said. “If the state doesn’t offer a timely and tough reaction then the insulted and humiliated people begin to defend their ideas and interests on their own,” he said.

Public debates on punishments for those who insult believers started out in spring shortly after members of the Pussy Riot punk group staged a highly controversial ‘punk sermon’ in Moscow’s Cathedral of the Savior. Oil was added to the fire by the bizarre actions, in which the wooden Russian Orthodox Crosses of Veneration were sawn down in a number of places by unidentified vandals.

Representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church started talking about a ‘war on the Russian Orthodoxy’ then.

“The latest events involving Patriarch Kirill’s wristwatch and apartment, as well as the Pussy Riot group triggered protests of a considerable part of the population,” Yuti Tabak, an expert on religious studies at the Moscow Human Rights Bureau told the Izvestia daily.

“Crosses are being felled all across Russia; mottoes appear on the walls of churches, and the believers may offer a retaliatory reaction soon,” he said. “This may bring about extremist actions on religious grounds with very problematic consequences. This will be totally inadmissible and that’s why the authorities are trying to resolve the problem at all levels now.”

MOSCOW, September 14