Jail for Those Offending the Feelings of Believers

July 1, 2013
Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) and Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill/Reuters/Sergei Gunyeev/Ria Novosti/

Russian President Vladimir Putin has approved changes to the Russian Federation Criminal Code introducing punishment for offense of the religious beliefs and feelings of citizens. The maximum measure of punishment under the new law will be deprivation of freedom up to three years. A fine of up to 500,000 rubles as well as compulsory and corrective labor have also been introduced as punishments.

President Putin has signed the law on punishment for offense of the feelings of believers. The document containing the amendments to Art. 148 of the Criminal Code provides sanctions for “public actions expressing clear disrespect to society and committed for the purposes of offense of religious feelings of believers.” According to the text of the document, the offense will be punishable by a fine of up to 300,000 rubles or the wages of the convict for a period of up to two years, or compulsory work for a period up to 240 hours, or forced labor for a period of up to one year, or deprivation of freedom for a period of up to one year.

If the actions punished are committed in places especially designated for conducting worship services and other religious rituals and ceremonies, they are punishable by a fine up to 500,000 rubles or wages of the convict for a period of up to three years, or compulsory work up to 480 hours or forced labor for a period of up to three years, or deprivation of freedom for the same period with or without restriction on freedom up to one year.

The draft law on protection of the feelings of believers was introduced last year and was a reaction to the so-called punk prayer of the group Pussy Riot at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Its authors were Aleksandr Remezkov (United Russia), deputy chair of the Committee on Criminal Law and Serge Gavrilov (Communist Party of the Russian Republic), head of the Committee on Property [of the State Duma]. The deputies incorporated into the draft a prohibition against holding “certain offices or engaging in certain activity for a period of up two years” on those who offended the feelings of believers. In addition, the parliamentarians decided to accelerate the date for the law to go into effect to 1 July of this year.

In early June, the State Duma passed in the third and final reading the draft law that provided criminal liability for offending the religious feelings of believers – up to three years’ deprivation of freedom. Earlier the draft was returned in the third reading due to four new amendments that were submitted to the committee. The improvements in the law forbid its violators from “holding certain posts for a period up to two years.”

Earlier on 21 May, the State Duma deputies had passed in the second reading amendments to the Criminal Code and the Code of Administrative Violations which made “offense of religious feelings of believers” a crime (up to three years of deprivation of freedom) and “desecration of items of religious reverence” an administrative offense (with a fine up to 200,000 rubles).