New amendments to bill on "protecting believers’ feelings"

14 May 2013 

Source: (info
In the State Duma on 13th May 2013 amendments were introduced to a bill on protecting believers’ feelings which had passed its first reading. According to these amendments, no new Article is to be added to the Criminal Code, but new wording is proposed for Article 148 of the Code (‘impeding the realization of the right to freedom of conscience and faith). 

In the new wording of the clause provides for liability for public actions expressing overt disrespect for society and aimed at insulting the religious feelings of believers, in the form of a fine of up to 300,000 roubles, or compulsory work for a term of up to 240 hours, or imprisonment for a term of up to one year. In the case of these acts being performed in places of religious worship, services and in places where religious rituals are conducted, the fine may be up to 500,000 roubles, a term of compulsory work of up to 480 hours or a term of imprisonment of up to three years with possible further restriction of freedom for a term of up to one year. 

For illegally impeding the activities of religious organisations or preventing religious rites and ceremonies from taking place, the foreseen sanction is a fine of up to 300,000 roubles, compulsory work for a term of up to 360 hours, or correctional work for a term of up to one year, or also imprisonment for a term of up to three months. In the case of these actions being performed using an official position or with the use of or the threat of violence, those found guilty may be punished with a fine of up to 200,000 roubles, correctional work for a term of up to 480 hours, or imprisonment for one year. 

The amendments also allow for changes to the Administrative Code of the Russian Federation, and specifically, a tenfold and more increase in fines under Article 5.26 for infringement of the law on freedom of conscience, freedom of faith and on religious associations. For impeding the realization of the right of freedom of conscience and faith, a fine for private individuals of 10,000 to 30,000 roubles has been established (at present it is 100 to 300 roubles) and the fine for public officials is from 50,000 to 100,000 roubles (at present 300 to 800 roubles). For the intentional public defilement of religious or liturgical literature, objects of religious worship, signs and emblems of ideological symbolism and for their damage or destruction, the fine proposed is 30,000 to 50,000 roubles for private individuals and from 100,000 to 200,000 roubles for public officials. 

Thus, in the amendments to the bill do not take into account demands made by human rights defenders, including the Presidential Council of the Russian Federation on Civil Society and Human Rights, who had asked that the phrase “insulting religious feelings” be removed from the articles under consideration on the grounds that it is unclear and leaves scope for free interpretation and abuse, the Sova centre writes.