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On Wednesday morning, a bill on religious offences prepared by parliamentarians was submitted to the State Duma lower house of Russia’s parliament. The bill suggests that offending believers’ feelings should be punished by three years in prison, and desecration of religious shrines should be punished by a term of five years in prison. However, experts warn that the bill can turn against the Orthodox activists themselves who regularly call ‘sectaries’ representatives of ‘small religions’.
It is proposed to add a new article to the RF Criminal Code, which provides for a fine of up to 300 thousand roubles or up to 200 hours of compulsory community service as the penalty for public insult, humiliation of worship and other religious rites and ceremonies of religious organisations, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, the Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily writes. A higher fine is proposed for defiling of objects and items of religious worship, places intended for divine services and other religious rites of religious groups, as well as for inflicting damage on and destruction of such items. This offence is also to be punishable by a five-year prison term.
The head of the Duma committee for affairs of public associations and religious organisations, Yaroslav Nilov, stressed that the bill aims to combat provocateurs and can be considered in three readings at once already during the current parliament session, the Novye Izvestia newspaper reports. “Many sceptics now say that this introduces punitive measures. However, there is nothing to be afraid of for those who do not stage provocative actions and who have no plans to destabilise the situation and stir up sectarian strife,” Nilov said. The statement on the protection of religious feelings of believers was supported at a meeting on Tuesday by 414 lawmakers. However, members of A Just Russia faction failed to reach consensus on this matter.
Meanwhile, the document can work against the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) itself. “I’ve seen more than once videos showing as the Orthodox believers are breaking bookstores of the Pentecostal movement members, as they harass Hare Krishna followers. I’m sure that the first legal actions will be brought by members of ‘small religions’ against the ROC hierarchs. The same old believers and Pentecostals are often called ‘sectarians’ by the Orthodox believers who say that these are false religions,” says gallery owner Marat Guelman who has repeatedly become a defendant in lawsuits filed by Orthodox activists dissatisfied with exhibitions organised by him. Pentecostals are already going to take advantage of the new amendments to the legislation. “Certainly, we will use the new law every time Russia’s Protestants are insulted,” member of the RF Public Chamber and head of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians Sergei Ryakhovsky told the Kommersant daily.