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Russian Parliament Moves Ahead On Anti-Blasphemy Measure

Russia's parliament has given preliminary approval to an anti-blasphemy bill that would make it a crime to offend religious feelings.

The BBC reports that the bill was drafted last year after members of the punk band Pussy Riot used Moscow's main Russian Orthodox cathedral to perform a protest song against President Vladimir Putin.

Blasphemy against religions considered "an integral part of Russia's historical inheritance" could mean three years in jail and a fine of nearly $10,000, under the bill. The BBC says it is likely to cover Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism.

According to the BBC:

"Human rights activists and some critics of the new anti-blasphemy bill in the Duma say its wording is too vague and could lead to unjustified prosecutions.

"Yuri Sinelshchikov, a Communist MP and former prosecutor, warned that it could provoke 'an outburst of combative atheism, in its most aggressive form, and enmity between believers and non-believers.'

"Some human rights activists warned that 'insults to believers' might include the teaching of Darwin's theory of evolution or the Big Bang theory about the universe."

Commentators in Russia say the law is likely to pass in a parliament dominated by Putin supporters.

Two members of Pussy Riot, an all-female punk band, are serving two-year terms at remote prison camps for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" related to the February 2012 performance at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow.

Their incarceration has become a cause celebre for activists both inside and outside of Russia. Earlier this week at a trade fair in Germany, Putin was surprised by three women who stripped off their blouses and shouted obscenities at the Russian leader to protest the band members' sentences.

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