* Bill has passed second reading, nears Putin signing
* Rights activist calls it a "repressive law"
By Maria Tsvetkova
MOSCOW, May 21 Russian lawmakers on Tuesday took
a step toward imposing jail terms for offending religious
feelings, approving legislation proposed after punk band Pussy
Riot performed a raucous protest song in Moscow's main Orthodox
Critics say the bill will give government-approved religious
groups protection others lack and blur the line between church
and state under President Vladimir Putin, who has advocated a
strong societal role for the Russian Orthodox Church.
Lawmakers in the State Duma approved the bill by a vote of
304-4 after the second of three required readings in the
450-seat lower parliament house.
Approval in the second reading, which is when most changes
are made to legislation, means Putin is likely to sign it after
it gets through the Duma and a vote in the upper house.
The bill would introduce jail terms of up to one year and
fines of up to 300,000 roubles ($9,600) for "public actions
expressing clear disrespect for society and committed with
intent to offend the religious feelings of the faithful."
If committed in a house of worship the maximum punishment
would be three years in prison and a fine of 500,000 roubles.
Kremlin critics fear that despite changes in the second
reading that made the wording more specific, it will allow for
selective application and use of the law as part of a growing
Kremlin arsenal of tools to suppress dissent.
"This is another repressive law," veteran human rights
activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva told the Interfax news agency.
Putin has not spoken publicly of the bill, but he has
suggested the jailing of Pussy Riot members was justified -
despite Western criticism - because the state needed to protect
Three members of Pussy Riot were sentenced to years in
prison last August for the February 2012 protest in which they
burst into Christ the Saviour Cathedral and belted out a "punk
prayer" urging the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Putin.
They were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious
hatred, while the bill imposing jail terms for offences against
religious feelings may be used to prosecute for less overt
One of the three, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was freed when a
judge suspended her sentence on appeal. Maria Alyokhina has a
parole hearing on Wednesday, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova was been
denied parole last month.
($1 = 31.2820 Russian roubles)
(Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Michael Roddy)