As the number of acts of vandalism against religious sites grows, Russian lawmakers are planning to consider a bill introducing jail terms for desecration.
At the request of Orthodox activists, the State Duma deputies will examine during their autumn session the situation of sacrilegious acts against Church property and propose amendments to the Russian Penal Code.
The idea to toughen the punishment for desecration of holy sites arose as the number of such offences increased after three young women from the infamous punk band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in jail for hooliganism.
Some opponents of the verdict – who consider it too tough and politically-motivated – went further than protesting outside the court building in Moscow.
For instance, in the city of Pskov, in Russia’s northwest, St. John the Forerunner Church was vandalized. On the white wall of the cathedral, which dates back to the 13th century, graffitists left an inscription reading “Pussy Riot, Respect!”
Graffiti in support of the band was also found on St. Ascension Cathedral in the town of Velikiye Luki. On Sunday, two churches were desecrated in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk (Russia’s Far East) with satanic symbols inscribed of their facades.
“We really should make some amendments to the Penal Code in order to cool down these outcasts who have nothing else to do in their lives [other than commit such offenses],” one of the authors of the initiative, United Russia’s MP Vyacheslav Lysakov told Izvestia daily.
Currently, vandalism is punishable by a fine, up to 180 hours of compulsory work, or up to three months of arrest.
MPs suggest introducing a penalty of up to three years of imprisonment for sacrilege.
The Union of Orthodox citizens welcomes the idea.
“We must understand that these offences may cost our country a lot,” head of the organization Valentin Lebedev stated.
Communist MP and former judge Vadim Solovyov disagrees. He believes there is no need for amendments to the law, which is already rather harsh. According to the lawmaker, the problem is with the practice of application of the law. When it comes to desecration of religious sites, it is not enough to classify such actions as “hooliganism”, he told Izvestia. These offences should be considered as an assault of other people’s religious beliefs and incitement of hatred.
Meanwhile, the leader of the Holy Russia movement, Ivan Otrakovsky, announced on Wednesday that volunteer Orthodox militia will be patrolling holy sites in the Moscow Region.
The activists say they “will take appropriate measures” should they uncover cases of blasphemy, or see individuals behaving aggressively toward priests.
“We call for a fair punishment, but not for violence,” Otrakovsky told Interfax. According to the activist, members of Holy Russia can no longer stand the lawlessness which happens due to the authorities’ inaction.
He pointed out that the Orthodox patrols will act within the framework of the law and coordinate their actions with police.
However, later a source at the Internal Ministry told the agency it is “premature” to speak about any cooperation between the Orthodox patrols and law enforcers, adding that his issue has not been considered yet.