13:37 GMT +317 January 2019
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    Top Russian Rights Activist Slams 'Orthodox Squads'

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    A leading Russian human rights activist condemned on Wednesday plans by a Christian group to set up "Orthodox squads" to fight blasphemy and aggression against priests.

    A leading Russian human rights activist condemned on Wednesday plans by a Christian group to set up "Orthodox squads" to fight blasphemy and aggression against priests.

    "Every religion must have their own patrol squads then, and atheists too," Lyudmila Alexeyeva told RIA Novosti.

    She described the plans, by the group Holy Rus, as a "violation of the Constitution."

    "This is nonsense," she said, adding that the motive behind the move was to "let more people use violence against ordinary citizens."

    Seven squads will soon be up and running in Moscow and its suburbs, Holy Rus leader Ilya Otrakovsky told the BBC Russian Service earlier this week.

    In a social networks posting, Otrakovsky said the squads "reserve the right to take appropriate measures" if they spot anyone "carrying out blasphemous actions towards Orthodox shrines" or attacking a priest.

    The Orthodox Church has not commented on the move.

    The move comes less than a week after three members of the all-female punk band Pussy Riot were jailed for two years for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, at a trial that sparked international condemnation.

    Along with other members of their band, Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Maria Alyokhina, 24, performed a "punk prayer" near the altar of Christ the Saviour cathedral in February urging the Virgin Mary to "drive out" Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

    Lawyers for Pussy Riot said the performance was not anti-religion and was in protest at Orthodox Church support for Putin ahead of the March 4 presidential elections that returned him to the Kremlin.

    On verdict day last week, a Ukrainian women's rights group, Femen, sawed down a wooden cross in Kiev in a show of support for the women.

    The Church has said there has been a rise in the attacks on churches following last Friday's verdict.

     

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