Russian Gov't Suggests Amending Bill on 'Offending' Religion

The Russian government has advised parliament to amend a bill which includes jail terms for those found guilty of "offending religious feeling." The legislation was introduced after the feminist punk band Pussy Riot staged a protest in Moscow's main cathedral in February 2012.

The government reportedly issued a statement on Jan. 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, urging parliament to rework the anti-blasphemy bill, as it may endanger the rights of Jews, Muslims, and others outside the Russian Orthodox Church, as the law includes a specific phrase that protects the Russian Orthodox Church but does not protect other faiths.

Reportedly, one of the lawmakers who supported the bill has indicated that the government's advice would be taken into consideration, although it remains unclear what parliament's next step would be, according to Reuters.

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The legislation which provides jail terms to those found guilty of "offending religious freedom" was introduced after the February 2012 protest of the 11-member punk band Pussy Riot, who stormed Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior to protest the relationship between President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox religion.

Two members of the female punk band, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, were sentenced to two years' imprisonment for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred," and the Russian Orthodox Church called for acts which offend religion to be criminalized in the country.

Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church and supporter of President Vladimir Putin, has urged the country's parliament to practice moderation when creating legislation that would criminalize acts which "offend religious feeling."

Although Patriarch Kirill has called for some form of punishment for those who insult religion, he also believes the proposed law should not limit citizens' rights.

"A fine of several hundred roubles ($10) for blasphemous inscriptions on a church a mosque or a synagogue signals that society does not fully realize the importance of protecting religious feelings of believers," Kirill recently told Interfax News agency.

"Any regulatory acts regarding the protection of religious symbols and the feelings of believers should be scrupulously worked through so that they are not used for improvised limitation of freedom of speech and creative self-expression," Kirill added.

As Reuters indicates, Putin currently treads a delicate political line, as he has solicited the support of the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as religious minorities, and therefore must support legislation which manages to include all religious groups in the country.

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