MOSCOW -- A Moscow district court on Monday found a film that has triggered sometimes violent protests throughout the Muslim world to be offensive and banned its broadcast in Russia.
After viewing "Innocence of Muslims," Judge Yevgeny Komissarov agreed with prosecutor Viktoria Maslova, who told the court that “the movie negatively depicts the Muslim religion and assists the growth of religious intolerance in the Russian Federation."
The ban, which goes into effect Nov. 6, would require Internet servers featuring the film to block its viewing by Russian audiences or risk having their sites blocked and potentially face charges of violating a Russian law against extremist activities.
Clerics and activists from Russia's large Muslim community welcomed the ruling on the film, which was made in California.
The decision echoed recent comments by President Vladimir Putin that the movie should be banned before it created conflicts between the followers of different faiths in Russia, said Rushan-hazrat Abbyasov, deputy chief of the Council of Muftis of Russia.
The ruling demonstrates to Russian Muslims that “the state really cares for them,” he said.
However, human rights activists worried that the court ruling could set a precedent for limiting freedom of speech. Vladimir Lukin, the Russian president's human rights envoy, had requested in writing that the judge not ban the movie.
Lukin’s advisor Valery Borshchev called the film “idiotic” but said the court ruling was worse because it was “far more dangerous.”
“This decision creates a very dangerous precedent opening a road from prohibitions on religious grounds to politically motivated bans,” Borshchev said in an interview. “This is how Stalinist repressions began in the '30s.”
Authorities of Russian regions such as Dagestan and Chechnya, which have large Muslim populations, had banned the airing of the film a week ago without waiting for the court decision. The popular social Internet site V Kontakte also blocked the movie on its server last week.
“I watched the 'Innocence of Muslims,' which made so much noise,” Pavel Durov, the owner of V Kontakte, wrote on his Twitter account last week. “It is miserable, low budget and not worth a discussion.”
The lower house of parliament plans to consider legislation aimed at preventing actions that would insult religious believers, a measure that could have serious implications for Russian civic society.
The proposed bill inspired religious activists in Rostov-on-the-Don in southern Russia to campaign for a ban on the showing of the musical "Jesus Christ Superstar" by a touring theater group from St. Petersburg. Local authorities suspended ticket sales for the show, which was scheduled for be performed Oct. 18.
-- Sergei L. Loiko