Moscow: A Russian government commission is considering increasing criminal punishments for extremism-related crimes and wrongdoing by religious organizations, the cabinet said Tuesday.
"The government legislation commission has approved for consideration a draft law establishing a legal basis for neutralizing the destructive activities of religious organizations in Russia," the cabinet said in a statement.
Larger fines and longer prison terms will be handed down for offences under several articles of the Criminal Code, including those relating to destructive activity by religious organizations, extremist activity, and inciting hate crimes as well as organizing an extremist group. Other offences facing tougher penalties include publicly calling for extremist activity, and promoting hate crimes, the cabinet said in a statement.
The draft law also proposes tougher punishments including community service for public calls for extremist activity, public or media-broadcast statements containing hatred, or causing damage to human dignity with sexual, racial, national, linguistic or religious characteristics.
The current maximum punishments listed in the Criminal Code for the offences mentioned range from up to three to up to 10 years in prison as well as fines of up to 300,000 ($9,500) and 500,000 rubles ($16,000), depending on the nature of the crime. The statement did not specify the new punishments proposed.
Previously introduced "anti-extremism legislation" in Russia has been criticized by human rights advocates, who claim it has often been used to clamp down on dissent rather than real threats to public order, and say the definition of extremist is subject to the interpretation of prosecutors and investigators.
Religious minority groups have also faced prosecution in Russia for activities considered "extremist", or for publishing "extremist publications".
In 2011, prosecutors in the city of Tomsk tried to impose a ban on the Russian translation of “Bhagavad Gita As It Is”, written by the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, claiming that the scripture promoted extremism. A court later ruled against the prosecutor`s case.