United Russia deputies want expert's offer to reform Russian Church probed for extremism

Moscow - Mikhail Markelov, a State Duma deputy from the United Russia party, intends to ask the Russian Investigative Committee to check an article by a political expert Stanislav Belkovsky, published in the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper, for extremism and defamation.

"If violations of these articles [of the Russian Criminal Code on extremism and defamation] are found in Belkovsky's material, I demand a criminal case against him to be opened," the website of United Russia quoted Markelov, a member of the State Duma Committee on Nationalities, as saying at a meeting on Tuesday.

Belkovsky wrote in his article, published on February 15, that the Russian Orthodox Church "has to be transformed into a confederation of independent parishes," where "parishioners will elect pastors, pastors - bishops, bishops - the patriarch." "The reformation is necessary so that the Church becomes an institution for the emancipation of Russians and ceases to be an agent of authoritarianism and a servant of the secular authorities," Belkovsky wrote.

"Belkovsky's article is definitely causing additional tension in society and is creating a very serious conflict," Chairman of the State Duma committee on regulation and United Russia member, Sergei Popov, said previously.

"We think that the Orthodox community and clergy should evaluate this, whether they might file a complaint with the prosecutor's office on these issues to investigate. It would be right if they were to take advantage of this opportunity," the United Russia website quoted Popov.

Belkovsky said he did not give grounds for a criminal case to be opened against him, however he did not rule out one being opened.

"All statements, saying that my concept to reform the Russian Orthodox Church are extremist and deserve a criminal case, have nothing to do with either the spirit or the letter of the Christian religion, or Russian criminal legislation," Belkovsky told Interfax.

"I don't rule out a criminal being opened," he said.