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Russia: Putin's party threatens law on 'defamation of religions' to deal with Pussy Riot

Publisher Article 19
Publication Date 25 June 2012
Cite as Article 19, Russia: Putin's party threatens law on 'defamation of religions' to deal with Pussy Riot, 25 June 2012, available at: [accessed 21 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

ARTICLE 19 is alarmed by the intention of President Putin's political party to criminalise so-called 'defamation of religions' in retaliation against legitimate artistic expression.

Members of President Putin's United Russia Party have announced they will shortly introduce legislative changes to Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code, which will allow for specific charges to be filed for insult on the basis of religion, punishable with up to 2 years imprisonment. This follows the high-profile case of three detained members of the feminist punk rock band Pussy Riot for staging a 'punk prayer' in Moscow's Christ the Savior's Cathedral, as well as an award ceremony that mocked Patriarch Kyrill I for a PR blunder.

'ARTICLE 19 is deeply concerned that new legislation is being proposed that will further erode freedom of expression in Russia, following the recent adoption of the law on meetings without consultation and adequate debate' said Dr Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

In an interview in the newspaper Izvestia on 22 June 2012, lawmaker Andrei Zhuravlyov explained that the initiative stems from a concern that current legislation is too broad and does not sufficiently recognise the feelings of religious believers. Zhuravlyov and others like him believe that for example the awarding of a 'Silver Overshoe' for greatest PR disaster to Patriarch Kirill I is insult on the basis of religion. He received the award after a photo of him wearing a $30,000 watch was photo shopped to remove it, but the shadow of the watch was left, forcing him to admit to owning the watch.

Zhuravlyov also argued that it was incorrect for a prosecutor to charge the Pussy Riot members with 'hooliganism' and they should instead have been charged with incitement to religious hatred.

Three members of the feminist punk rock Pussy Riot face up to seven years imprisonment after they were arrested on 21 February while staging a concert inside a church near the Kremlin. Dressed in balaclavas the three women allegedly sang a protest song in the Christ the Savior Cathedral calling for the Holy Mother to 'chase Putin out', the then President-elect. They were detained on 'hooliganism' charges and their pre-trial detention was extended on 21 June for the third time to 24 July. Their case is widely considered to be politically motivated.

ARTICLE 19 considers the introduction of the principle 'defamation of religions' a threat to freedom of expression. International human rights standards do not protect religions per se, but rather individuals and groups from discrimination and harassment on the basis of their religion or ethnicity. Belief systems themselves should not be exempt from debate, commentary or even sharp criticism, whether internal or external. Moreover, there is evidence that laws on "defamation of religions" have a discriminatory impact in practice and the concept of "defamation of religions" has been abusively relied upon to stifle dissent and criticism from religious believers, religious minorities and non-believers around the world.

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