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Pussy Riot-Inspired Anti-Defamation Law Takes Effect in Russia

(UPDATED) The unanimously approved law will criminalize religious insults with up to three years in prison.

Update (July 2): The Russian State Duma unanimously passed a bill to criminalize religious insults last week, according to the Moscow Times. The new law, which goes into effect today, will punish those who allegedly offend another's religious beliefs with steep fines and up to three years in prison.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) wasted no time speaking out against the bill. According to USCIRF chair Katrina Lantos Swett, "Enactment of this bill would further erode human rights protections in Russia."


Update (June 12): Interfax reports that the Russian parliament is on its way to approving a bill that "would criminalize insults of the religious feelings of believers and make them punishable by up to three years in jail." The bill still needs to be approved by the Upper House and President Vladimir Putin, but it could go into effect as soon as July 1.

According to RT, "The current bill is promoted by a large part of the Russian political establishment and strongly backed by the Russian Orthodox Church whose leader has publicly accused some unnamed forces of staging attacks on faith and religion in the country."


Update (April 10): The Globe and Mail reports that Russian lawmakers have green-lighted the first draft of a law that would "make offences against religion punishable by up to five years in prison ... in the mainly Orthodox country."

The bill comes one year after the band Pussy Riot staged a protest in the country's main cathedral and outraged many in the Russian Orthodox Church, which supports the proposed anti-blasphemy law.

The Moscow Times offers more details.


Pakistan is no longer the only country making headlines for its blasphemy laws. Some European countries are now striking down laws that criminalize offenses against religion. But other countries are strengthening them.

Russia announced this week that it will postpone adoption of controversial anti-blasphemy legislation in order to gather more input from the public. The law, which punishes "acts that offend religious sentiment," was proposed by President Vladimir Putin's political party after members of the band Pussy Riot were jailed for their anti-Putin protest in a cathedral.

Meanwhile, the Dutch parliament has accepted a motion to do away with a 1992 law that made it a crime to insult God.

A similar referendum could soon be under way in Ireland, where the newly elected leadership favors reforming the 1937 constitution and an updated 2009 law that explicitly criminalizes blasphemy. However, the referendum on the blasphemy law may not come until the government completes its constitutional convention, which could take up to a year.

But one country that is not poised to change its blasphemy law: Greece, where those involved in the production of an American play, "Corpus Christi," were charged last month with "insulting religion" and "malicious blasphemy." A second case soon followed.

In Europe, 8 out of 45 countries have laws against blasphemy, and 36 countries have laws against defamation of religions, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. It recently released a study examining the widespread use of blasphemy laws worldwide. "Of the 198 countries studied, 32 (16%) have anti-blasphemy laws, 20 (10%) have laws penalizing apostasy, and 87 (44%) have laws against the defamation of religion, including hate speech against members of religious groups," notes Pew.

CT has regularly reported on blasphemy and laws against it.

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