Monday, October 26, 2015

New Law on Holy Texts of Traditional Religions ‘Not Only Useless But Harmful,’ Legal Specialist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 26 – Vladimir Putin’s response to complaints about the findings of a Russian court that the Koran is extremist and to fears that some court will do the same about the Bible prompted him to come up with legislation that puts the holy books of four “traditional” religions beyond the reach of the judicial system.

            But that measure, which the Duma has passed on first reading, instead of clarifying the situation, makes it even more dangerous not only for people of faith but for the state which is intervening in these religious issues, according to Lev Simkin, a prominent Russian legal specialist.

            In a comment on the law entitled “Anti-Extremism on the March” in today’s “Novaya gazeta,” Simkin points out that it has long been noted that the provisions of the 2003 law on extremism are sufficiently flexible that the authorities could ban anything they like, including the Bible (

            The legal perversities of finding the Koran extremist or of fears that the Bible might be so judged could have led the Duma to define things more clearly or the Supreme Court to give judges a directive on how to rule or “or simply call for them to use good sense” and for the MVD and procuracy to be concerned about “the literacy of ‘battlers with extremism.”

            “Instead,” Simkin says, “the authorities simply decided to introduce into the law a list of holy books, the contents of which and even citations thereof from now on cannot be judged ‘extremist materials.’”  He suggests that prosecutors and judges will read this title “and put [this new law] to the side.”

            Including in this “’holy list’” are the Bible, the Koran, the Tanakh, and the Ganjur (the first but not the second part of the Buddhist cannon); but not included are the hadith which are holy for Muslims. 

            “Do you know on what criteria were selected the holy books which must not be judged?” Simkin asks. The legislation has an explanation: these books are included “in the goals of providing equal respect to the world’s traditional religions.” The problem is that “traditionalism” is a term which has not agreed upon definition.

            But that is hardly the only problem with the legislation or even this approach to satisfying the complaints of Kadyrov and others, Simkin says. The measure bans finding as extremist works in which these books are quoted even if they are quoted in the elaboration or justification of what would seem to be an extremist position. 

            The legal specialist points out that he does not know of a single country in which there exist such lists of holy books the use of whose contents cannot be questioned by the judicial authorities. “Everywhere it is somehow accepted that one trusts the judicial authorities and not suspect them of the wild desire of banning Holy Writings.”

                Yet another problem is how prosecutors and courts should deal with the writings of all other religions. Are those religions, their texts and their followers thus “second class” compared with the declared “traditional” ones. So it would appear, and they and their works will thus continue to be found extremist.

                All that makes this new legislation “not only useless but harmful,” Simkin concludes.

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