The State Duma adopted a statement on Tuesday on the need “to firmly repel the destructive forces that encourage anti-religious extremism” and is expected to adopt a bill shortly approving imprisonment for causing damage to religious objects.
The Duma Council has decided against holding a pubic discussion of the draft statement “On the Protection of the Religious Feelings of Believers,” instead ruling that a brief report on the issue be delivered by Yaroslav Nilov (LDPR), head of the State Duma Committee on Public Associations and Religious Organizations, because public discussions of delicate issues such as ethnic relations or religious feelings often provoke rash statements that lead to protests and even defamation lawsuits.
“Lately there have been a number of outrageous, blasphemous, shocking and obscurantist events,” Nilov said, citing the examples of the Pussy Riot scandal, the defiling of icons, swastikas and satanic symbols painted on Orthodox churches and synagogues, the murder of Muslim leaders in Tatarstan and Dagestan, and the destruction of a Protestant prayer house in Moscow. He said that these were “incitements to religious hatred.”
The statement made on behalf of four parliamentary parties highlights the special role of the Russian Orthodox Church “in the development of national spirituality and culture” and says that certain “destructive forces are encouraging anti-religious extremism, vandalism and disorderly conduct” and “public hatred” of religious organizations. The statement calls for harsher punishments for religious vandalism and the redoubling of efforts toward “religious enlightenment of society” to “strengthen civil peace and accord.” The document, which was unanimously adopted, concludes that Russia’s political modernization should rely on the “preservation of the traditions of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and other religions that constitute an inalienable part of the historical heritage of the Russian people.”
The Committee on Public Associations and Religious Organizations, which is drafting the law with the assistance of deputies, lawyers, representatives of different faiths and members of the Public Chamber, will forward it to the State Duma in the next few days. Nilov’s first deputy, Sergei Popov (United Russia), said the law suggests adding a new article to the Criminal Code that would specify punishment for “damaging religious and sacred objects,” ranging from fines (100,000-200,000 rubles or $3,210-$6,420) to up to three years’ imprisonment. The authors analyzed the experience of other countries where such crimes are punishable by between 1 and 10 years’ imprisonment.
Currently, Article 214 of the Russian Criminal Code (on Vandalism) specifies a term of imprisonment of up to three years for defiling buildings and damaging property in public places on the grounds of religious hatred. Deputies argue that this is not enough. “If you buy an icon and break it up in the street, you will not be punished, because you own it,” Nilov said. Popov added that Article 214 is ineffective and has hardly been used in the past few years. The deputies believe, for some reason, that a new article on anti-religious extremism would be more effective.