(Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, visits the Church of Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem’s Old City November 12, 2012. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

Patriarch Kirill, the head of Russia’s Orthodox church and a long-term ally of President Vladimir Putin, on Sunday urged the Kremlin to be moderate in new legislation seeking stricter punishment for religious offences.

The pro-Kremlin United Russia party proposed the law introducing prison terms for religious offences after a protest against Putin’s increasingly close ties with the Church by punk band Pussy Riot in Moscow’s main cathedral last year.

Two members of the band were jailed for the protest.

In remarks published on the eve of the Orthodox Christmas holiday, Kirill, who has called Putin’s long rule a “miracle of God”, said the legislation should not limit citizens’ rights.

“Any regulatory acts regarding the protection of religious symbols and the feelings of believers should be scrupulously worked through so that they are not used for improvised limitation of freedom of speech and creative self-expression,” he was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.