Characteristics of crime against religious items

Keywords: culture objects, culture items, religious items, spiritual values, crime, proportional punishment
Language: In Latvian

The stability of society is affected not only by the processes of globalization but also by the human history with its cultural and religious traditions. Criminal offences committed by greed are studied and categorized according to the target of its immediate threat, mode of implementation and characteristics of the crime subject, as well as the number of subjects. One of such threat targets is cultural property. Theft of cultural property differs sharply from other larceny sorts by the threat object and subject, the manner in which the crime was committed, as well as by the justified concern of the society and the enormous interest of the mass media causing widespread resonance in the society.

In the territory of Latvia, theft of religious items was punishable since the time of adoption of Christianity, however, during the Russian Empire, only Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian — Gregorian and Evangelical Protestant Churches were protected by the law, however, after the restoration of independence, freedom of conscience and belief of the believers of all religious denominations in Latvia were protected by law. After the occupation and incorporation of Latvia into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, neither religious beliefs nor religious venerable objects were protected by the norms of the Criminal Code. After the restoration of independence and until the last time the Criminal Law did not separate religious objects from the common term “property”, and calling to justice is possible only for the destruction or damaging of state-protected cultural monuments, for its desecration, unlawful removal outside the Republic of Latvia and unlawful expropriation, as well as with a qualificative indication — if it causes serious damage to the interests of the State or of the society.

No decrease trend in the amount of theft of religious items has been identified. Trafficking of cultural property obtained illicitly is an international crime that unites countries of origin, of transit and of destination. This became possible not only because of continuing demand but also by opening of art market boundaries and by possibility of selling, buying and delivering of cultural items through the Internet, as well as due to the political instability in some countries.

There is an urgent need to study the specificity and difficulties of finding, removal of religious items and it investigation. Of great importance is also necessity to evaluate the effectiveness of used solutions and tools with the aim to apply a reasonable penalty to a guilty person, taking into consideration not only the material but also the spiritual value of religious items.

According to the author’s point of view, successful investigation of the mentioned crime is burdened by the gaps in the Criminal Law of the Republic of Latvia.

Firstly, a religious item, as a subject of the crime threat, was not separated from the concept of the general object of the criminal offence of theft.

Secondly, in order to have the possibility to impose a proportionate punishment on the guilty person, taking into account not only the material but also the spiritual value of a religious item, the author offers to start discussion among lawyers on the necessity of supplementing of objects of criminal offence of Section 175, Paragraph four with the concept of a religious item, expressing Section 175, Paragraph four in the following wording: “(4) For a person who commits theft, if it has been committed on a large scale, or if it has been committed by an organized group, as well as commits theft of narcotic, psychotropic, powerfully acting, toxic or radioactive substances, explosives, firearms,  ammunition or religious items.”