Russia may soften religion law over Putin concerns
By Gabriela Baczynska
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian lawmakers are reworking a draft law introducing prison terms for religious offences after signs that Vladimir Putin is concerned it could undermine the delicate balance between the country's many religions.
The president's party proposed the law after two members of the Pussy Riot punk band were jailed for two years over a protest in a cathedral against Putin's increasingly close ties with the Russian Orthodox Church.
Putin has trod a thin line between celebrating a secular state of many religions and promoting the Russian Orthodox Church since rising to power in 2000, but has leaned more on the Orthodox Church for support since starting his third term as president in May following protests against his rule.
Opponents say the draft law is intended as part of broader Kremlin moves to suppress dissent and bolster public support by casting Putin, a former KGB spy, as the protector of religious believers.
Critics have also said the definition of offending religious feelings is so broad and vaguely defined in the draft law that it risks being ineffective or applied selectively in practice, hurting relations between Russia's many religions.
"The impression is that in the Kremlin they understood that somehow they have overdone it," said Alexei Malashenko, a religion expert at the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank.
"The goal of this law is still to tighten regulations in general but they understand that a too radical tightening is dangerous so they will consult now and hold talks, especially as at the Kremlin itself there is no unanimity on that matter."
Yaroslav Nilov told Reuters that the parliamentary committee overseeing the legislation, which he heads, was looking again at the wording after Putin told his advisory council on human rights that lawmakers should not rush with the bill. Continued...