MOSCOW, June 24 (RAPSI) – A bill has been sent to Russia’s lower house of parliament aimed at toughening criminal punishment for offences under the law on extremism and inciting hatred, which has previously been used to prosecute minority religious groups in Russia.
The law on combating extremism, adopted in July 2002, has been criticized by human rights advocates, who claim it has often been used to clamp down on dissent rather than to fight genuine threats to public order. They also claim the definition of extremist is subject to the interpretation of prosecutors and investigators.
Religious minority groups have been prosecuted in Russia for activities considered “extremist,” or for publishing “extremist literature,” including in one case a treatise on the Indian holy epic, the Bhagavad Gita.
The bill sent to the Duma, drafted in accordance with presidential and government instructions, increases the prison sentence for public incitement of extremism from three to four years, as well as increasing the fines for it.
It also sets out an increase in the penalty for inciting hatred or enmity or for abasing human dignity from two to four years compulsory labor and raises the fines from 100,000-300,000 rubles to 300,000-500,000 rubles.
The bill also sets out tougher punishments for organizing extremist groups and for membership of a secular or religious organization banned on the grounds of extremism.
President Vladimir Putin said in early March that the number of extremist crimes in Russia had increased by nearly 12 percent in 2012. Speaking at the Prosecutor General’s Office, he called on prosecutors to take on the threat of extremism, claiming a number of extremist groups have been showing signs of dangerous activity.
“They are holding public rallies, spreading their propaganda on the Internet, and recruiting supporters almost openly,” Putin said. “It is your direct responsibility to address in the most definite and uncompromising way any attempts to incite ethnic and religious hatred and promote xenophobia and chauvinism.”