World Bulletin / News Desk
Russian lawmakers are calling for jail sentences for people guilty of offending religious feelings, in a move that could tighten the bonds between President Vladimir Putin and the resurgent Orthodox Church.
The State Duma, the lower house of parliament, adopted a declaration on Tuesday saying the killing of spiritual leaders, vandalism against church property and "blasphemous acts of hooliganism" posed a threat to Russia and must be countered.
The vote came weeks after members of punk band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years' jail for performing a protest song in a cathedral, and coincides with widespread anger in the Muslim world against an online video mocking the Prophet Mohammad.
"All these actions are aimed at destabilising the centuries-old spiritual and moral foundations of Russia, discrediting traditional values and, in essence, serve to ignite civil strife and undermine the country's sovereignty," the Duma resolution said.
The declaration has no binding force but sets the tone for legislation that Yaroslav Nilov, head of the Duma committee on civic and religious groups, said would be presented to parliament as early as this week.
Nilov said a proposed amendment would introduce criminal responsibility for offences against religious beliefs and feelings and impose a jail term of up to three years.
Alternative punishments would be fines of up to 300,000 roubles ($9,700) or community service, the daily Vedomosti reported, citing unidentified pro-Kremlin lawmakers.
Critics said such laws would blur the line between the state and the Russian Orthodox Church and called the move part of a crackdown on dissent under Putin, who began a six-year presidential term in May.
"A very alarming process is occurring now: our state is starting to incorporate the Russian Orthodox Church into itself as a part of the state," said Ilya Ponomaryov, an opposition lawmaker who has taken part in street protests Putin's foes say have prompted a Kremlin crackdown.