A Russian man may face jail time for denying God’s existence in an online discussion forum.
Viktor Krasnov, who wrote, “There is no God,” on the social network VKontakte in 2014, is on trial in Stavropol, in southern Russia. He is being prosecuted under a controversial 2013 law, known as Article 148, that criminalizes acts that insult people’s religious feelings and beliefs, his lawyer, Andrei Sabinin, told Agence France-Presse. If convicted, he faces up to a year in prison or a fine of 300,000 rubles ($4,065).
Krasnov wrote his comments, misspelling the Russian word for “God,” on VKontakte in October 2014. He also referred to the Bible as a “collection of Jewish fairytales.”
Article 148 was introduced after female band Pussy Riot performed a “punk prayer” in the main Russian Orthodox church in Moscow, calling on the Virgin Mary to “drive Putin away,” in February 2012. Two Pussy Riot members were sentenced to two years in prison under charges of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred,” amid international outrage.
Amnesty International has criticized Article 148 for showing “the shrinking space for freedom of expression in Russia.” The group said the law has “no place on the statute books of modern, rights-respecting democracy.”
“I did not intend to insult anyone, speaking my mind not in a church or any sort of religious community, but in an amusing community, where religious questions are never discussed,” Krasnov told Svoboda, Radio Free Europe’s Russian Service.
Krasnov told Svoboda he posted his Internet comments after Dmitry Burnyashev and Alexander Kravtsov suggested that women were inferior to men at home.
Burnyashev and Kravtsov later reported Krasnov to the police, saying he “insulted their religious feelings,” according to Radio Free Europe. The online discussion still exists on VKontakte but Krasnov’s comments have been deleted.
Krasnov told Svoboda he has received threats from Orthodox Christians, who said they would “do all sorts of bad things” to him and his family. He said he reported the threats to the police, who told him, “When you are killed, then come.”
Krasnov told Russian news site Grani that people went to his mother’s office demanding her dismissal on the grounds that her son was an extremist.
There is no official religion in Russia, but more than 70 percent of the country’s population identifies as Orthodox Christian, a 2014 Pew survey showed. The Russian Orthodox Church is widely regarded as an ally of Putin, and Orthodox groups have played a prominent role in Russia’s nationalist politics and international ambitions.
Irina Ivanova contributed reporting.