State Duma Supports Believers
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.
Russia Hosts Fourth World Cossack Congress
Novocherkassk, the capital of Don Cossacks in southern Russia, will host the Fourth World Cossack Congress this week, which convenes about 500 participants from the CIS and from 40 countries outside the CIS.
Foreign participants will drive into the city via two Triumphal Arches built to commemorate Russia’s victory over Napoleon in 1812, to which Don Cossacks, commanded by legendary chieftain Matvei Platov, contributed a great deal.
According to official data, the regional government provided 7.6 million rubles ($243,900) for the event, but unofficial sources said the costs will be much higher because they include extensive landscaping and other improvements in Novocherkassk, plus the renovation of historical monuments and the conference facilities for the congress.
A month before the event, Deputy Governor Viktor Goncharov, who heads the organizing committee for the bicentennial celebration of the 1812 victory, visited the main congress facilities. He was less than impressed by the condition of the place: the Novocherkassk Drama Theater required immediate repairs, as did the tombs of the heroic 1812 Cossack chieftains and the building facades along the main streets that the congress participants would see. The streets and sidewalks were not in great condition either.
Goncharov also pointed out the poor public awareness of the upcoming event and ordered a more aggressive promotional campaign. To save face, the authorities engaged local businesses in the promotion.
The Novocherkassk Army Assumption Cathedral will feature a memorial service on the event’s opening day, and memorial plaques will be installed at the cathedral’s burial vault. A Cossack parade will take place at Chieftain Platov Square followed by other commemorative events.
At the same time, representatives of Don Cossack Host – a public association uniting over 100,000 local Cossacks – will not attend the congress. Historically, the world congresses are only for “official Cossacks,” while the public association holds its own conventions and parades.
Don Cossack Host Chieftain Nikolai Kozitsyn complains that the authorities have always used the Cossacks for their own purposes, dividing them arbitrarily into “the red” and “the white,” or into “unofficial” and “official” Cossacks.
“They flirt with the Cossacks when they need votes to win parliament seats and state offices,” he said. “I got elected chieftain in October 1993 and have served my people since then. My authority has been reconfirmed by the Cossack assembly on several occasions.”
Unlike official Cossacks, Don Host members work hard to make a living, mostly in agricultural communities. Even so, they provide regular assistance to general and military schools. They have their own militia where volunteers serve.
The World Cossack Congress will run until October 1, featuring gala performances, fairs and exhibitions, and an equestrian festival.
Russian Billionaire Grounded for Brawl on TV
Alexander Lebedev, the owner of National Reserve Corporation will face a trial next week on charges of hooliganism after a fight with businessman Sergei Polonsky during the shooting of the NTVshniki show on the NTV channel last year.
Restricted from leaving Russia during the hearing, the banker said he never attempted to flee during the 12 months he was under investigation and that he still “has faith in Russian justice.”
“Do you really think I’d ‘disturb the peace’ based on the hatred of a certain social group?” he asked Izvestia.
A criminal case was opened against Lebedev in October 2011 after he “inflicted serious physical harm” on Polonsky during the shooting of a TV show. He could end up behind bars just like the punk band Pussy Riot who was jailed for hooliganism. Article 213 of the Criminal Code, which describes hooliganism motivated by political, racial, ethnic or religious hatred, calls for punishments ranging from a fine of up to 500,000 rubles ($16,050) to a prison term of up to five years.
At the same time, lawyers interviewed by Izvestia have raised eyebrows at Lebedev’s actions being qualified as a crime, let alone motivated by hatred, rather than as an administrative offence.
“There is no corpus delicti here, and his actions do not qualify under article 213; it was petty hooliganism,” said lawyer Konstantin Sasov from Pepelyayev Group. “This should be a fine of 500 to 1,000 rubles ($32) or an administrative detention for 15 days,” he added.
“The criminal case will be sent to court, and Lebedev will be barred from leaving Russia until his trial is over because he will have to be present at the hearings,” said Konstantin Trapaidze, the president of the Your Attorney-at-Law law firm. “But he can petition the court for a temporary permit to leave if he absolutely needs to travel.”
The eventual punishment will depend on the severity of the damage done and the wording of the court verdict, Trapaidze said. His actions could be qualified as malicious hooliganism because they were committed in public.
Attorney Stanislav Akimov confirmed that criminal charges brought officially against a person automatically mean certain restrictions such as a ban on leaving Russia, bail, detention or house arrest. “Exceptions are possible but I have never heard of criminal charges being brought without some of these restrictions,” he said. The strongest restrictions, house arrest or custody are usually handed down after investigators ask the court to use one of them.
The most frequently used restrictions are a ban on leaving and arrest. However, an investigator can permit a suspect to travel temporarily, even abroad, upon request. But if a suspect breaks these restrictions, he will be put on the international wanted list.
Lawyer Andrei Felyust from Yakovlev and Partners believes there is a 90 percent probability that Lebedev will be fined, or in the worst case, sentenced to community service. “It’ll be difficult to prove that his actions were premeditated,” he said.
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