NEWSLINK: Russian patriarch says religion law must not go too far

Patriarch Kirill file photo

(Russian patriarch says religion law must not go too far – Reuters – Alexei Anishchuk – January 6 – click here for full article)

In the aftermath of the Pussy Riot prosecution, Reuters covers the Russian Orthodox reaction to Russia’s law on anti-religious offenses:

Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and a long-standing ally of President Vladimir Putin, on Sunday urged the Kremlin to be moderate in new legislation seeking stricter punishment for religious offences.

The pro-Kremlin United Russia party proposed a law introducing jail terms for offending religious feelings after a protest against Putin’s increasingly close ties with the Church by punk band Pussy Riot in Moscow’s main cathedral in February.

Two members of the band are in prison for the protest, which Kirill has called part of a coordinated attack intended to thwart the post-Soviet revival of Russia’s dominant church.

The Russian Orthodox Patriarch, who has been cast as pro-Putin, is supporting the law and calling for some kind of appreciable punishment, even while preaching balance:

In remarks published on the eve of Russian Orthodox Christmas, Kirill, who has likened Putin’s long rule to a “miracle of God”, told the Interfax news agency that Russia needed stiffer punishments for offences against religion.

“A fine of several hundred roubles (about $10) for blasphemous inscriptions on a church, a mosque or a synagogue signals that society does not fully realise the importance of protecting … religious feelings of believers,” he said.

But in his most extensive comment on the proposed law, he said it should not limit citizens’ rights.

“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.”

Russian leaders are said to have been cultivating stronger ties with the Russian Orthodox Church, even as the law on religious offenses is said to be vague and invite uneven application:

Putin, a former Soviet KGB officer, has cultivated close ties with the Russian Orthodox Church in 13 years in power and has leaned more on it for support since starting his third term as president in May following protests against his rule.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his wife, Svetlana, attended a Christmas service led by Kirill and shown live on state TV at Christ the Saviour cathedral, the scene of the Pussy Riot protest. Putin went to a midnight service early on Monday in the Black Sea city of Sochi.

Opponents say the draft law is intended as part of broader Kremlin moves to suppress dissent and bolster public support by casting Putin as the protector of religious believers.

Critics have also said the definition of offending religious feelings is so broad and vague in the draft law that it risks being ineffective or applied selectively.

Coming off of the Soviet era, the Russian Orthodox Church has been reasserting its place in Russian society:

The Russian Orthodox Church has been resurgent since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. About three in four of Russia’s 143 million people call themselves Russian Orthodox, though only a minority attend church regularly.

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