MOSCOW, August 28 (RIA Novosti)
A ruling party lawmaker who authored controversial recent legislation on protest rallies and NGOs is proposing harsher penalties for desecrating religious sites.
"I plan to put forward the initiative to toughen the penalties for desecrating religious shrines," Alexander Sidyakin, of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, wrote on his Twitter blog on Tuesday.
The proposal comes after a Moscow court handed down a two-year sentence to three members of the all-female punk band Pussy Riot earlier this month over an anti-President Vladimir Putin protest in Moscow's largest cathedral in February, which has divided Russian society and sparked a wave of protest actions in support of the group.
Sidyakin also put a link in his blog to an article in Kommersant daily about a recent spate of attacks on Orthodox crosses in two regions of Russia, in which four crucifixes were chopped down.
It is not clear whether the proposed bill will include verbal blasphemy.
Sidyakin could not be reached for further comment.
The 35-year-old has been vilified in recent months by opposition figures for what they say is his role in a perceived Kremlin crackdown on unprecedented protests against the rule of President Putin.
Sidyakin drafted two laws - one drastically increasing fines for protest-related offences and the other forcing politically-active NGOs funded with money from outside Russia to declare themselves "foreign agents" or else see their members face huge fines or jail time. Both have been widely criticized at home and abroad.
But in a recent interview with RIA Novosti, Sidyakin insisted the legislation met "all European norms."
Meanwhile, a previously unknown group, Narodnaya Volya, has claimed credit for last week's cross attacks in Russia. In a statement on Facebook, the group said the action came in response to the sentences given to the Pussy Riot trio.
Ukrainian feminist group FEMEN carried out the first such attack on August 17, cutting down a cross in central Kiev. The group threatened to take similar action on Russian territory.
A senior Moscow priest, Dmitry Smirnov, said the cross attacks amounted to a declaration of war against the Church. Several Church figures have previously called for blasphemy to be made a crime. It is currently an administrative offence punishable by a fine of up to 1,000 rubles ($31).
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