A defrocked Russian monk has been detained by police on suspicion of inciting people to commit suicide. A Moscow court ordered the arrest of Father Sergei Romanov on Tuesday, charging him with violating the right to freedom of conscience and fomenting unlawful actions.
Romanov, who denied all charges against him, will remain in custody until 28th February, pending trial. Russia's Investigative Committee, which oversees investigations into major crimes, said that the monk has called on at least ten nuns to commit suicide in a sermon, which was then posted online.
The region’s ombudsman for children’s rights, Sergei Morokov, told a local news outlet that he had sent a complaint to prosecutors after one of his staff viewed a video of one of Father Romanov’s sermons that he said showed the priest “discussing suicide in the presence of children”.
Other reports suggest that Romanov, a fierce critic of Vladimir Putin, had called on his followers to "die for Russia".
Supporters attempted to protect Father Romanov when police arrived at the Sredneuralsk monastery to detain him on Monday night. Romanov commandeered the women's monastery by force earlier this year.
“Satan, go away!” some of the devotees could be heard screaming as riot police forced their way through. Romanov's supporters refused to allow police to enter the facility after their leader had been arrested.
Critics say Romanov has been running a religious cult and calling on his followers to worship Russia’s last Tsar Nicholas II and his family, who were killed in 1918.
Romanov contests this, insisting that he is leading a group of "true believers".
The monk has previously spent 13 years in prison for murder and robbery. He was officially defrocked in July after a religious court found him guilty of disobeying church orders - he had urged his followers to disobey public health orders related to Covid-19.
Romanov has called the Covid crisis a "pseudo-pandemic" and accused Orthodox church leaders of "working with the forerunners of the Antichrist" by choosing to close their churches.
In response to Romanov's arrest, the Yekaterinburg Diocese said it had "concerns about the spiritual and mental health of people on the premises of the seized monastery".