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Controversy Over Russia’s “Anti-Blasphemy” Laws

By Heather Greene

On Tuesday, May 21, the Russian Federation’s State Duma overwhelmingly approved the second reading of the controversial “anti-blasphemy” legislation. In the revised edition, the law would make it illegal to “intentionally or to publicly offend religious sensibilities” or “desecrate religious sites and paraphernalia.” The former is punishable by a one-year prison sentence and the latter up to three. The Duma will hear a third and final reading in the next week. If approved, it goes to President Putin for a final signature.

Although the second reading was passed with a landslide vote of 304 to 4, the proposed law has caused considerable controversy. Proponents, like United Russia party member Mikhail Markelov, stress that the law is necessary to protect the religious freedom and only “punish public acts that obviously go out of their way to insult a religion.”

However, opponents are not convinced. Fair Russia party member Sergey Mironov said “We are still not sure that it can be stretched to indict many Russians, even those who did not set out to offend anyone.” Legal adviser Henry Reznik called the law “legally meaningless” or “rubber band.” It could stretch to meet the needs of those in power. Human Rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva called it “another repressive law.”

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