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Obama must remind Vladimir Putin of human rights, religious freedom concerns

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Also in July, Russia’s parliament adopted laws increasing control over the Internet and re-criminalizing certain kinds of libel. 

In November, Putin signed a treason law on the day he told the Presidential Human Rights Council that he might revise it. It broadens the definition of high treason to include acts against “constitutional order, sovereignty, and territorial and state integrity,” potentially making participation in political protests and international organizations punishable by up to 20 years in prison. 

All of this came on top of acts against pro-democratic US entities, such as closing the US Agency for International Development and denying certain radio frequencies to Radio Liberty. 

Recently, Russia’s parliament began considering the criminalizing of blasphemy. A current bill would levy fines and penalties for “offenses against religion and religious sentiment” and “offending religious feelings of citizens.” 

Those found to have engaged in “public insults to the faith and humiliation during liturgical services” could be fined up to 300,000 rubles ($10,000), ordered to perform 200 hours of community service, or sentenced to three-year prison terms. For “the desecration and destruction of religious objects, places of worship and pilgrimage,” penalties could include up to five years in jail. Putin has since called for postponing the bill’s consideration until next spring. 

Supporters insist that religion, particularly Russian Orthodoxy, needs protection against critics who, they claim, seek to destabilize Russia by undermining its religious traditions. Yet a blasphemy law not only would violate the individual rights of freedom of religion and expression, but could exacerbate tensions by stifling the peaceful exchange of ideas and opinions.

Were the blasphemy bill to pass, Russians could bring suit against fellow citizens whom they allege have “insulted their religious sentiments.” For instance, Russian Orthodox believers who view Apple’s logo as glorifying Adam and Eve’s original sin in the Bible also could prosecute Apple executives.

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