Prosecutors in Russia say they are studying a complaint accusing Coca-Cola of insulting Orthodox Christian beliefs in an advertising campaign.
They say the complaint was lodged by 440 residents of the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod earlier this month.
It accuses Coca-Cola of blasphemy through using adverts with images of Orthodox churches and crosses, some of which were even put upside down.
" Coca-Cola uses all these Orthodox symbols in a blasphemous way by placing images of Coca-Cola bottles inside the pictures," the complaint said: Some images are deliberately turned upside down, including the crosses .
Coca-Cola officials have defended the company's marketing approach, saying it was promoting Russia's cultural heritage.
Coca-Cola's main Russian bottling distributor has removed religious images from its drinks refrigerators after a group of Russian Orthodox believers accused it of blasphemy.
Local people in the city of Nizhny Novgorod, 400 km from Moscow, complained to the prosecutor's office last month about pictures of an orthodox cross and onion-shaped church domes on the outdoor refrigerators.
At the time, Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Co. said it would not drop the marketing campaign and there had been no negative reaction in other Russian cities where similar images were used on the sides of the refrigerators.
Russia's tolerance towards Western influences has lessened, with the Kremlin's political rhetoric notably hostile to the United States, the birthplace of Coca-Cola.
I would assure people that we used these images to promote Russian culture and not to offend anybody's feelings, a spokeswoman said, confirming the company's decision.
She said it would take some time to remove the offending images from hundreds of outdoor sales refrigerators.
A Russian lawmaker has proposed a ten-fold increase in fines and up to 15 days' administrative arrest for insulting religious beliefs.
Under a bill proposed by United Russia Party member Alexander Sidyakin, fines for offending religious beliefs or desecration of holy objects or symbols would be increased from the current $17-$34 to $170-$340, RIA Novosti reported.
Sidyakin said current fines are insignificant and cannot serve as a deterrent against offending religious feelings.
He said the bill came in response to a stunt by the feminist group Pussy Riot in downtown Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral. Five masked members of the female group stormed the church to perform a punk prayer criticizing what it called the
church's links to the Kremlin. See
video of Pussy Riot's impromptu performance from
After the incident, Vsevolod Chaplin, a church spokesman, demanded blasphemy be made a criminal offense.
Two members of the Russian feminist band Pussy Riot , who were arrested on charges stemming from a
February demonstration inside a Moscow church, have now declared a hunger strike, RT reports.
Band members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina have announced the hunger strike in protest of their arrest over the weekend and the court's decision today to keep them behind bars, supporters told the Russian news site Gazeta.ru.
Police arrested six people on Saturday on charges stemming from a Feb. 21 incident at Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral in which five members of the band staged a five-minute performance before police caught up to them.
The five church performers, just a few of the dozens of women who make up the band, pulled the stunt in protest of the church's alleged support of Vladimir Putin, the Moscow Internet television station SOTV reports.
Since forming last September, the group has conducted a number of flash performances in visible areas around Moscow as part of their declared mission to confront Russia's authoritarian rule, sexism, ethnic intolerance, and social atomization, the
There was plenty of support for the jailed pair at an opposition rally in Moscow, which saw up to 15,000 gather in the city centre.
Pussy vs Putin said one sign in English at the demonstration while another called for Pussy Riot for the Eurovision . One protester held up the female torso of a shop dummy with Free Pussy Riot written on the back. The two women were
included in a list of political prisoners read out from the stage.
The Judaic community of Russia has sharply condemned the recent performance by the punk group Pussy Riot in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.
Andrey Glotser, the press officer for Russia's chief rabbi, told Interfax-Religion:
These people did not only insult Christians, they insulted all believers. These young women turned a temple into a cheap political platform. In addition, the way they expressed their views was so inappropriate that I personally absolutely understand to
what degree they generally don't care about their fellow citizens, at least those who believe in God,
The protesters have committed blasphemy in a place where people pray to God, which means that they don't care about any temple and, if we look at the situation more broadly, they don't care about other people. Their desire to demonstrate their views was
stronger than respect for other people.
One can have different opinions personally about the activities of Vladimir Putin or any other politician, and one can have different opinions about a religion, in particular, the work of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Muslim ummah, or the Jewish
community, but this attitude does not give a person license to express his viewpoint in such barbaric ways as this group did.
More than 2,000 people have signed an open letter to Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, asking the clergy not press charges,
over the Pussy Riot stunt in a church.
But Kirill has told Russian TV he was sickened by their protest and saddened that Russian orthodox believers would defend the band. He said:
Those people don't believe in the power of prayer, they believe in the power of propaganda, in the power of lies and slander, in the power of Internet and mass media, in the power of money and weapons. We believe in the power of prayer. I call on the
whole Russian Orthodox Church for passionate and diligent praying for our country, for our trust, for our people, for God to forgive us our sin.
However not all religious leaders are so unforgiving, others including Vsevolod Chaplin, the influential head of the Orthodox Church's social affairs department, have said the women should not be imprisoned.
Tens of thousands prayed outside Moscow's main cathedral on Sunday to show their support for the Russian Orthodox church in a controversy over a punk rock political protest.
Christ the Saviour cathedral was the scene of a brief surprise performance in February by Pussy Riot, a female punk rock group protesting against Vladimir Putin's return to the presidency. Three band members remain in police custody and face up to seven
years in jail on charges of hooliganism.
Their treatment has provoked a public outcry and contributed to growing criticism of the church and its close ties to the Kremlin.
Patriarch Kirill has portrayed the punk performance as part of a broader attack on the church. He had called on believers to attend Sunday's service to pray for our faith, our church, our sacred objects and our fatherland . The patriarch has
joined the Kremlin in portraying the anti-Putin protest movement as a threat to Russian statehood.
An official of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations, which operates Azerbaijan's repressive religious censorship system, admitted in mid-April that about 100 shops wishing to sell religious books are still waiting for the necessary
licences. Only 16 such licences have been issued since the system's introduction in 2009.
Forum 18 News Service notes that selling religious books without a licence risks a maximum punishment for a first offence of two years' imprisonment.
A judge in Moscow City Court has backed the extended detention of three members of the female punk group Pussy Riot, who are facing charges of committing hooliganism inside Russia's most undeservedly revered Orthodox church.
The judge rejected an appeal by defense lawyers challenging a lower court's decision to jail the trio until at least June 24 as authorities pursue the legal case against them.
The three were arrested February 21 after staging a performance against Vladimir Putin's 12-year rule in Russia inside Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral.
The human rights group Amnesty International has described the three young women as prisoners of conscience who have been unjustly jailed.
Novosibirsk city court has fined the artist Artem Loskutov for painting two icon-like images of Pussy Riot members, which then were distributed as advertising posters all over the city.
Loskutov was charged with supposed violation of public morality in the form of desecration of venerated public objects, signs and emblems of ideological symbols. The fine is 1000 rubles.
On March 11 2012, Icon-like posters depicting feminist band Pussy Riot members emerged in the city of Novosibirsk. The poster shows a woman wearing a red cloak and a purple mask. She holds her hands up and carries a baby on her chest. There are two words
on the banner "FRDM PSRT" (a shortened version Freedom to Pussy Riot -- translated).
On February 21, five members of The Pussy Riot punk band performed on the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow for a few minutes. They sang a song that contained unflattering characteristics of the clergy of the temple, as well as the
Russian Patriarch, Kirill. The women, who were wearing colored masks, also sang Holy Mother, send Putin packing! Three members of the band are still detained under arrest awaiting trial.
A court has ruled that three members of Pussy Riot, the protest group who stormed the pulpit of Moscow's main Orthodox church and asked for Russia to be freed from Vladimir Putin will remain in prison until late July. This will add up to 5 months in
prison so far.
Outside the court building, police detained at least five people as dozens of the band's supporters whistled in unison, chanted anti-Kremlin slogans and clashed with Orthodox activists who called on the band members to repent.
A Russian court yesterday ruled that three members of the feminist punk rock collective known as Pussy Riot will remain in jail - a crushing end to a day of rumors, reportedly out of the Kremlin, that Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and
Yekaterina Samutsevich be released on bail.
The three activists were arrested in March after allegedly staging a flash mob style protest at Moscow's distinctly unchristian Cathedral of Christ the Savior on February 21.
A Moscow judge has ordered three members of the feminist protest group, Pussy Riot, to spend the next six months in
jail, prolonging a shameful case that has highlighted the vindictiveness of both the Russian church and the authorities.
The three women, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alekhina, were remanded in custody until January 2013. They have been in jail since their arrest in March after performing an anti-Putin punk prayer in Moscow's
most important, but not very christian, 'church'.
Their supporters say the powerful Orthodox church, which has close links with Putin, is behind the drive to keep the women in jail. Top church officials have come out in favour of their incarceration.
However many less elevated, but more christian Russians, who initially took offence at Pussy Riot's church stunt, have since called for their release. A poll released on Friday by the Levada Centre, an independent pollster, showed that 50% of
Muscovites surveyed were against pursuing the criminal case against the three women, while 36% supported it.
Vsevolod Chaplin says authorities are not speaking loudly enough about western involvement in the growing opposition movement.
A top official in the Russian Orthodox church said that the trial of the feminist protest group Pussy Riot had been willed by God,. Three members of Pussy Riot stand accused of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred following a February performance in
Russia's main cathedral aimed at protesting against Vladimir Putin's return to the presidency.
It was a sin against God and it is God that is judging it, Vsevolod Chaplin, a high-ranking priest who often acts as the church's spokesman, said: And all Christians should know this.
Chaplin said he refused to accept the three women's apology, issued in court on Monday, for insulting Orthodox believers. An unforgiving Chaplin said:
Their words had a double meaning Any acceptance of a mistake is a step in the right direction. But they also insulted the patriarch, who is a symbol of the church.
And to confirm the root basis of the Pussy Riot protest, Chaplin praised the growing closeness between church and state:
For the Orthodox believer, like for Muslims, of course the authorities and the church are understood as one thing. Our ideal is the unity of the church and the authorities, and unity of the people and the authorities.
In this way, we are decidedly different from the west. I think attempts in the west to separate the spiritual sphere and secular sphere is a historical mistake. Such a division is not characteristic to any civilisation except the west.
A group of leading musicians has called on Russia's president Vladimir Putin to give a fair hearing to members of a protest group held for months on remand for performing a legitimate protest .
The trio from Pussy Riot staged a performance in a Moscow cathedral calling on the Virgin Mary to remove President Putin from power.
In a letter to The Times newspaper, the group of British musicians including Jarvis Cocker, Pete Townshend, Martha Wainwright and Neil Tennant, said that the incident by the band amounted to a minor breach of the peace .
Requesting the release of the three protestors a statement said:
We are extremely concerned about the treatment they have received since their arrest and during their trial.
Dissent is a right in any democracy and it is entirely disproportionate that they face seven years in jail for what we consider a preposterous charge of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred".
We are especially concerned about recent reports that food is being withheld from them and that they have appeared in court in a cage.
The backing of British musicians comes after other celebrities including pop star Sting and US rockers the Red Hot Chili Peppers had showed support for their plight.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has publically insulted Madonna via Twitter. He tweeted:
Every former w. who has aged wants to give lectures about morals, especially during tours and gigs abroad.
The w, translated from Russian, is an abbreviation that roughly means slut, bitch," or "whore."
Rogozin ranted about Madonna after a mid-concert speech which she gave in support of the all girl dissident protest group, Pussy Riot, to tens of thousands of fans at Moscow's Olimpiisky stadium, Madonna said:
I think that these three girls ... have done something courageous. I think they have paid the price for this act and I pray for their freedom.
The British Shadow Chancellor Kerry McCarthy attended the Pussy Riot trial on Monday to give a bit of extra attention to the three members of the all-female protest group who face up to seven years in prison for a church performance in which they
denounced President Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill.
It seems strange to me that they have been charged with this offense, McCarthy told The Moscow Times during a break inside the courtroom at Moscow's Khamovnichesky District Court. In the U.K., they would have been charged with a breach of peace
and told off or fined.
When McCarthy started following the trial, she saw that the defendants weren't able to call their witnesses and that other violations of their rights were taking place, she said.
Asked whether she saw the trial as politically motivated, she replied, Everything I've read about it would lead me to think that.
Pussy Riot's alleged crime was to have performed what they dubbed a punk prayer in the cathedral of Christ the Saviour in February, a 40 second performance of a song calling on the Virgin Mary to join forces with them against Vladimir Putin.
The trial has in large part been about whether the band were demonstrating religious hatred by their actions, or whether - as the women maintain - it was a political protest. The prosecuting lawyer somewhat bizarrely argued in his closing
statement that it wasn't a political statement as no politicians were named, although the song is called Virgin Mary, Chase Putin Out.
The band argue, perhaps a little facetiously, that the song isn't anti-religious because they're enlisting the Virgin Mary onto their side. The female lawyer representing the nine victims in court (that is, those who say they were insulted or traumatised
by seeing the performance) was outraged by the band's suggestion that Mary was a feminist, and said that feminism is a mortal sin .
There have, however, been many criticisms made of the trial process: the fact the defence weren't allowed to call the witnesses they wanted to, and not allowed to examine the prosecution witnesses/victims properly either. I wasn't there for the victims'
testimony but people have reported that the judge was very quick to shut down questions, and simply didn't allow the sort of cross-examination that the defence wanted.
There have also been many concerns raised about the way the women are being treated: they say they are only getting a few hours sleep a night, they aren't being fed during their 12 hour days at court, and Nadya and Masha have not been able to see their
two small children. There has also been an order made barring Nadya's husband, Peter, from visiting her, after - I was told - he was seen to be too active in calling for their release.
Comment: The bit about forgiving those who trespass against them
11th August 2012. Thanks to Alan
Kerry McCarthy's remarks on the trial are interesting, but I don't think she quite sees the point about Pussy Riot's claim that the Virgin Mary would agree with them. It isn't facetious . Whether or not they believe the doctrines of the opening
words of their prayer - Bogoroditse Devo ( Virgin Mother of God ) - or even in her historical existence, the fact is that in the longest speech attributed to her in the New Testament Mary talks of God putting down the mighty from their
thrones and raising up the humble, filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich away empty . Looks like that's another Madonna they've got on their side.
Furthermore, Patriarch Kirill, his absurd spokesprat Fr Chaplin - can't resist saying he's a right Charlie! - and the allegedly offended lay people in the cathedral ought to be well aware of this, since, like Anglicans and Catholics, they say or sing
this text, called the Magnificat, daily in their services. They also say that prayer by Mary's kid, but don't seem to have taken on board the bit about forgiving those who trespass against them.
When it comes to the lawyer calling feminism a sin , words almost fail me. Does this idiot ever look in the robing room mirror? She's (1) a woman and (2) a lawyer. How does she think she manages to be both without the work of feminists?
Extract: Russian Orthodox Church defiant over Pussy Riot trial
Younger Orthodox Russians I spoke to, many of whom support Pussy Riot, disagree. They feel that their Patriarch is not maintaining the neutrality expected of him and is in fact legitimising the activity of the state.
The Church connects people to God but now these two bodies - the Church and the government - are linked and it should not be like this, says Nikolai Polozov, a committed Orthodox Christian and the lawyer acting for Pussy Riot.
And yet the Church feels someone is out there to get them. As it struggles to boost its low attendances (fewer than 10% of Russians attend church regularly), it talks of a smear campaign being waged against the Patriarch.
The US, EU and rights groups have condemned jail sentences imposed on three members of Russian protest group Pussy Riot over an anti-Vladimir Putin protest in a Moscow cathedral.
The women were sentenced to two years in prison. The sentences were handed down in Moscow by Judge Marina Syrova, who found Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.
The women said their protest, in the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in February, was directed at the Orthodox Church leader's support for Putin.'
US state department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the US was concerned about both the verdict and the disproportionate sentences... and the negative impact on freedom of expression in Russia .
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the jail terms questioned Moscow's respect for the obligations of fair, transparent and independent legal process .
Amnesty International strongly condemned the court's ruling, saying it showed that the Russian authorities will stop at no end to suppress dissent and stifle civil society .
Russia's Orthodox Church said the protest was a blasphemy but also unconvincingly appealed for clemency for the women, perhaps realising the bad press that church had received through their unforgiving stance. A church statement said:
We think the words of pity for the convicted which have been coming from the Church's children and other people are natural. It is necessary to divide the sin from sinner and reprimand the first while hoping the latter will improve.
The Church added that it condemned the intentional act of blasphemy as well as the rude hostility to millions of people and their feelings . They also pointed out that blasphemy which qualifies as a sin against God can only be
forgiven after sincere repentance. [After say about 2 years in prison?]
The Unchristian Russian Orthodox Church is warning of an organized antichurch campaign, after vandals in two widely separated regions took chainsaws to four large wooden crosses over the weekend.
Church spokeprats say the damage was done by people who are either in sympathy with the Pussy Riot collective, three of whose members were sentenced to two years in a penal colony earlier this month for a protest against the church and against Vladimir
Church Patriarch Kiril had abandoned all christian principles of forgiveness and had supported the persecution of the protest group. So perhaps hardly surprising that the church had incurred the wrath of the protest group and their supporters.
The four crosses were chopped down by unknown persons who left police no clues to their motives or identity. One was a large wooden crucifix erected to the memory of Soviet-era political prisoners in the far northern region of Archangelsk. Russian media
reported three more wooden crosses were destroyed in Chelyabinsk region in western Siberia.
Two weeks ago, in Kiev, members of a Ukrainian feminist performance art collective, Femen, chainsawed a large wooden Orthodox cross as an explicit protest against the Pussy Riot verdict. The Femen women argued they were cutting down the symbol of
a corrupt church whose actions prop up the dictatorship of Putin.
Alexei Mukhin, director of the independent Center for Political Information in Moscow said:
What we're seeing here are copycat acts, people who take a signal from what Pussy Riot did, and it could be very dangerous.
Having said that, however, it should be noted that the church leaders are not being entirely forthcoming here. They have a vested interest in portraying themselves as victims, especially since they failed so miserably in the Pussy Riot struggle.
A group of Russian Duma deputies is developing a bill that would criminalize blasphemy, sacrilege and anything else that offends religious believers.
Under the proposal, currently being drafted by members of the Social and Religious Organizations Committee, people convicted of insulting the faithful would face a steep fine, forced labor and even prison, Deputy Yaroslav Nilov told RIA-Novosti.
The current 1,000 ruble ($30) fine is laughable, the Liberal Democratic Party deputy said. If someone runs a red light, that's 1,000 rubles. If someone offends a million believers, that's also 1,000 rubles.
A theatre in the Russian city of Rostov has dropped a production of Jesus Christ Superstar after protests by Orthodox Christians.
Protesters had complained the rock opera projected the wrong image of Christ. Local Russian Orthodox protesters lodged their complaint with prosecutors and also wrote a letter to the management of the producers at Rostov Philharmonic.
Citing a new law protecting the rights of believers , they described the musical as a profanation and said any such production should be submitted to the Russian Orthodox Church for approval.
It is unclear to which law the protesters were referring. The lower house of the Russian parliament, the State Duma, is currently considering a bill which would make it a crime to offend the religious feelings of citizens .
Popular Russian blogger Rustem Adagamov said in a tweet that Orthodox philistines had cancelled the musical.
Lawyers for three members of the feminist protest group Pussy Riot are contesting their convictions in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
The complaint filed on Wednesday alleges that the group's conviction violates four articles of the European Convention on Human Rights guaranteeing freedom of speech, the right to liberty and security, the prohibition of torture and the right to a fair
24th December 2013. From Amnesty International newsletter
Late last week, Russia announced that a new Amnesty Law will see many prisoners of conscience released. Among those due to be reunited with their families are singers from the punk band, Pussy Riot, who have been serving a two-year sentence for Hooliganism
, and the Greenpeace Arctic 30 -- a group of environmental activists detained in September this year.
The Amnesty Law will not erase the criminal records of those wrongfully convicted, but is a step in the right direction and will no doubt benefit many victims of injustice.
Russian MPs have given initial approval to an anti-blasphemy law with extreme jail terms or fines for anyone found guilty of offending religious
The bill was drafted last year after the punk band Pussy Riot performed a protest song against President Vladimir Putin in Moscow's main cathedral.
The bill says blasphemy could incur up to three years in jail or a fine of up to 300,000 roubles ($9,700). It was passed by the Duma - Russia's lower house - in a first reading on Tuesday. To become law it has to pass two more readings in the Duma, then
a vote in the upper house.
The text refers to offences against religions that are an integral part of Russia's historical inheritance - implying that it covers Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism.
Human rights activists and some critics of the new anti-blasphemy bill say its wording is too vague and could lead to unjustified prosecutions. 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.
The Russian Duma has passed a second reading of a repressive blasphemy law. The legislation has been softened, but still represents a significant ramping up of punishments compared to existing laws.
The second reading was approved overwhelmingly, with 304 Duma deputies voting for, only 4 against and 1 abstention. Under the revised bill, Russians would face a year in jail for intentional and public displays that cause offense to
religious sensibilities, down from three in the previous draft; desecrating religious sites and paraphernalia would be punishable by up to three years in jail, down from five.
The bill covers offence to all of Russia's major religions, not just Orthodox Christianity. It could be passed in its third and final reading as early as this week. It is expected to come into force sometime this year.
Communist deputy Oleg Smoli pointed out some of the dangers:
An offense to religious sensibilities is a term that defies definition. A radical believer could find offense in expressions of other people's faith, or atheism.
Sergey Mironov said:
We are happy that the proposal has been scaled back from covering all religious offense, to deliberate acts. But we are still not sure that it can be stretched to indict many Russians, even those who did not set out to offend anyone.
Russian police have opened a probe into a play based on Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband staged by Moscow's MKhT theater, which the Russian Orthodox church claimed to be "blasphemous."
The probe into Idealny Muzh. Komediya (An Ideal Husband. A Comedy) , written and directed by Konstantin Bogomolov , was opened in response to complaints by four members of the public.
The complaints may be linked to comments by the Russian Orthodox church which earlier criticized the performance. Perennial whinger, and Russian Orthodox Church spokesman, Vsevolod Chaplin was quoted as saying:
From my point of view, [the performance] contained the profanation of the crucifix symbol, as an almost totally naked woman imitated it.
In late November, a performance of the play was disrupted by Orthodox activists, who went onstage, shouting blasphemy accusations.
Russia's government has fired the head of a theater in Siberia over an opera production that wound up the Russian Orthodox Church and religious activists.
Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky dismissed Boris Mezdrich as director of the Novosibirsk State Opera and Ballet Theater over an updated staging of Richard Wagner's 19th-century opera Tannhauser . The production portrayed the title character as a
director making a film about Jesus visiting Venus's erotic grotto.
Mezdrich's dismissal was announced as thousands of people demonstrated outside the theater in the center of Novosibirsk, saying the production was offensive to Christians and reflected the values of a decadent West.
The protests reflected what liberals say is an oppressive atmosphere in Russia, where President Vladimir Putin has portrayed his country as a bulwark against an immoral West and allowed the Russian Orthodox Church increasing sway over everyday life
despite the legal separation of church and state.
A local Russian Orthodox cleric filed a lawsuit last month against Mezdrich and the director of the Tannhauser production, Timofei Kulyabin, accusing them of desecrating Christ's image and offending believers. A court in Novosibirsk cleared Mezdrich and
Kulyabin on March 10, saying there was no evidence they violated the law.
Russia's vague laws, which see actions deemed insulting to religious beliefs punishable by up to three years in jail, have led to more censorship and self-censorship in all forms of journalism. By Ekaterina Buchneva