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.
Europrean Union immediately called the move a 'fundamental step' toward peace
'We are telling our security forces, our political movements, that we do not want an escalation, but that we want to protect ourselves,' Palestinian leader says
European Council President Donald Tusk warns of potential new waves of refugees should Assad come out victorious in Syria
As Hungary and Croatia shut their borders with Serbia, experts fear refugees face dangers of minefields as they trek through Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia
According to Palestinian Red Crescent, at least 500 West Bank Palestinians have been injured by Israeli gunfire in last three days alone
British PM says he plans to ask for parliamentary permission to strike ISIL in Syria
Strikes, protest related to airlines company's decision to cut jobs could negatively influence France's image, president says
European Commission chief says he had thrashed out details of the plan during his talks with Turkish president Erdogan
Army and rebels have repeatedly traded blame, accusing each other of breaking the ceasefire, the eighth such agreement to have been signed
Palestinian homes have been destroyed as clashes escalate throughout West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Alliance calls Russian incursion an "extreme danger" and urges Moscow not to attack Syrian rebels and civilians.
Abdurrahman Tabakovic, who hails from a town just outside Sarajevo, has officially become the 'country's youngest person' to learn the Quran by heart
Croatia will hold general elections on Nov. 8, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic said in a statement on Monday, as Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic’s government fights to stay in power following a six-year recession.
New project uses satellites to bring Internet access to large parts of continent
The award-winning refugee teacher, Aqeela Asifi, has been recognized for bringing education to refugee girls in a remote community in Pakistan
Since beginning of 2015, 172,402 migrants have entered Serbia