Russia: Draft Amendment to the Criminal Code Aimed at Countering Insult of Religious Beliefs

ARTICLE 19 calls on the State Duma of the Russian Federation to reject the Draft Law Amending the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation and Some Legal Acts of the Russian Federation Aimed at Countering Insult of Religious Beliefs and Feelings of Citizens, Desecration of Religious Objects and Subjects of Worship (Pilgrimage) and Sites of Religious Ceremonies (Draft Law). 

The Draft Law fails to meet international human rights standards; if adopted, it will introduce illegitimate restrictions on the right to freedom of expression. It de facto introduces a prohibition of defamation of religions into the Russian law and may considerably restrict scientific, political and artistic discourse on religious issues.

ARTICLE 19 has identified three main problems with the Draft Law that highlight the need for Russian legislators to refrain from adopting the Draft Law altogether:

First, the Draft Law violates international freedom of expression standards as it does not comply with the three-part test under Article 19(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR):

The Draft Law fails the test of legality, as it introduces overly broad and vague legal terms, such as “insult of religious beliefs and feelings,” “denigration of a religious service,” “religions constituting an inalienable part of the cultural heritage of Russian peoples” and “religious literature.” The vagueness and subjective nature of these terms can lead to arbitrary interpretation and abuse by law enforcement.

The Draft Law does not pursue a legitimate aim. ARTICLE 19 has repeatedly observed that there is a growing international consensus among states and UN human rights bodies who have agreed that prohibitions on defamation of religions and protections of symbols and beliefs are not only contrary to guarantees of freedom of expression but can be abused against the very religious groups that they purport to protect.

Second, the Draft Law fails to comply with the requirements of Article 20(2) of the ICCPR that requires States to prohibit the advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.

Third, the Draft Law singles out “religions constituting an inalienable part of the cultural heritage of Russian peoples” – presumably the Russian Orthodox Church. Instead of protecting its citizens (as ostensibly declared in the purpose of the Draft Law), ARTICLE 19 believes that this can be used in a discriminatory manner against other religious groups, in particular those holding minority or no religious views.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the State Duma of the Russian Federation to reject the concept of defamation of religions proposed in the Draft Law and refrain from attempts to introduce similar legislation in the future. We urge the Russian legislature to take steps to review its legal framework for compliance with international human rights standards and introduce a legal framework that is conducive to the protection of freedom of expression for all people.

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