MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian lawmakers are calling for jail sentences of up to three years for anyone guilty of offending religious feelings, in a move that could further tighten the bonds between President Vladimir Putin and the resurgent Orthodox Church.
The State Duma lower house of parliament adopted a declaration on Tuesday saying the killing of spiritual leaders, vandalism against church property and “blasphemous acts of hooliganism” posed a threat to Russia and must be countered.
The vote came weeks after members of punk band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years’ jail for performing a protest song in a cathedral, and coincides with widespread anger in the Muslim world against an online video mocking the Prophet Mohammad.
“All these actions are aimed at destabilizing the centuries-old spiritual and moral foundations of Russia, discrediting traditional values and, in essence, serve to ignite civil strife and undermine the country’s sovereignty,” the Duma resolution said.
The declaration has no binding force but sets the tone for legislation that Yaroslav Nilov, head of the Duma committee on civic and religious groups, said would be presented to parliament as early as this week.
Nilov said a proposed amendment would introduce criminal responsibility for offences against religious beliefs and feelings and impose a jail term of up to three years.
Critics said such laws would blur the line between the state and the Russian Orthodox Church and called the move part of a crackdown on dissent under Putin, who began a six-year presidential term in May.
Putin, in recent comments on Pussy Riot, the global protests over the video “The Innocence of Muslims” and the killings of Islamic leaders in Russia, has said that extremists were trying to tear Russia apart and that the feelings of the faithful must be protected by the state.
In late August, a suicide bomber killed an influential Islamic cleric in the North Caucasus region of Dagestan on a day when Putin was warning against religious extremism in Tatarstan, a long peaceful majority Muslim province where the chief mufti was wounded and a deputy killed in attacks in July. (Additional reporting by Nastassia Astrasheuskaya; Editing Steve Gutterman and Robin Pomeroy)