Russia moves closer to jail terms for offending religion

By on May 22, 2013

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.

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