Russian man could go to prison for saying God does not exist

By Ishaan Tharoor

A Russian man is being prosecuted for writing a post on social media that equated the Bible to a "collection of Jewish fairytales". Photo / iStock
A Russian man is being prosecuted for writing a post on social media that equated the Bible to a "collection of Jewish fairytales". Photo / iStock

A man in the southern Russian city of Stavropol faces potential jail time for writing atheist comments on a website. In 2014, Viktor Krasnov, 38, posted on social media a message that equated the Bible to a "collection of Jewish fairytales". He is being prosecuted under a law that criminalises speech deemed offensive to the beliefs of Russian Orthodox Christians.

"If I say that the collection of Jewish fairytales entitled the Bible is complete bull----, that is that. At least for me," Krasnov wrote in an exchange on Vk.com, adding, "There is no God!"

For that, authorities apparently forced him to spend a month in a psychiatric ward to determine whether he was sane before launching into the case last month.

His attorney told Agence France-Presse that his client was "simply an atheist" who had also made fun of "Halloween and Yiddish holidays" in the same series of comments and wasn't specifically denigrating Orthodox Christian belief.

The law that has led to Krasnov getting placed in the dock was used to prosecute members of the agitprop punk band Pussy Riot, who stormed into a famous Moscow cathedral in 2012 to stage a controversial music video, singing a song that criticised entrenched Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin's specific brand of nationalism is steeped in religion, as well as overt ties to Russia's Orthodox Church. The head of the church, Patriarch Kirill, is a useful Putin ally and is increasingly seen as a proxy for the Kremlin's interests.

As The Washington Post's Andrew Roth noted last year, there has also been an uptick in local activist courts pursuing cases against religious blasphemers and supposed "extremists." In many instances, authorities have dug into an individual's online history to find incriminating evidence.

"I don't know how you can treat social networking posts seriously," an opposition website quoted Krasnov as saying. "Looks like we need a law to protect atheists' feelings too."

- Washington Post

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