MOSCOW, June 11 (RIA Novosti) – Russia’s lower house of parliament on Tuesday approved a bill that would make insulting religious believers’ feelings a criminal offense, punishable by up to three years behind bars.
The controversial bill, submitted to the State Duma in late September, was backed by 308 lawmakers and opposed by just two, garnering the minimum 226 votes necessary for approval.
The legislation will come into effect next month if passed by the upper house of parliament – the Federation Council – and signed by President Vladimir Putin.
The bill was prepared in the wake of the all-female punk band Pussy Riot’s “punk prayer” protest at a prominent Moscow cathedral, in which they called for the Virgin Mary to banish Putin.
Two Pussy Riot members are currently serving two-year prison terms for that protest, on charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.
Under the bill tentatively approved on Tuesday in its second and third readings, publicly insulting the feelings of religious believers, including by vandalism or the desecration of holy sites, would be punishable by a fine of up to 500,000 rubles ($15,000), compulsory labor and/or up to three years in prison.
Obstructing the activities of a religious organization or the holding of a religious ceremony would also be a criminal offense, punishable by a 300,000 ruble ($9,000) fine and/or up to three months behind bars.
If a state official commits that offense, he or she would be sent to prison for up to a year and be barred from government posts for up to two years. Any Russian who publicly desecrates or destroys a religious object on purpose would face a fine up to 200,000 rubles ($6,000).
The bill, along with federal legislation against the promotion of homosexuality, is strongly supported by numerous conservative activist groups, in line with the position of the Russian Orthodox Church.