Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Russian coronavirus-denying ex-monk sentenced to 7 years

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MOSCOW — A former Russian Orthodox monk, who denied that the coronavirus existed and defied the Kremlin, was handed a seven-year prison sentence Friday.

Nikolai Romanov, 67, who was known as Father Sergiy until his excommunication by the Russian Orthodox Church, urged his followers to disobey the Russian government’s lockdown measures and spread conspiracy theories about a global plot to control the masses.

A court in Moscow convicted him of inciting hatred. His lawyer immediately announced plans to appeal.

Romanov served as a police officer during Soviet times, but after quitting the ranks was convicted of murder, robbery and assault and sentenced to 13 years in prison. He became a monk after his release.

When the coronavirus pandemic began, he denied its existence and denounced government efforts to stem the pandemic as “Satan’s electronic camp.” He spread long-debunked conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and described the vaccines developed against the virus as part of a global plot to control the masses via microchips.

The monk chastised President Vladimir Putin as a “traitor to the Motherland” who was serving a Satanic “world government,” and denounced the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, and other top clerics as “heretics” who must be “thrown out.”

Romanov urged followers to disobey the government’s lockdown measures and holed up at a monastery near Yekaterinburg that he founded. He had dozens of burly military veterans enforce his rules while the prioress and several nuns left.

The Russian Orthodox Church stripped Romanov of his abbot’s rank for breaking monastic rules and later excommunicated him, but he rejected the rulings. Facing stiff resistance by hundreds of his supporters, church officials and local authorities hesitated for months until finally moving to evict Romanov and detain him.

Romanov has been in custody since his arrest in December 2020. In November 2021, he was given a 3½-year sentence after being convicted of inciting suicidal actions through sermons in which he urged believers to “die for Russia,” and breaching freedom of conscience, accusations he denied. The seven-year sentence will run concurrently with the previous sentence.

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