MOSCOW, March 24 (RIA Novosti) – The leader of a Russian doomsday sect holed up in a cave in central Russia has been charged with inciting religious hatred, an assistant to the local prosecutor’s office said on Monday.
The 35 sect members, including 4 children, went underground in the Penza Region last November in order to “save themselves during the time of the apocalypse,” which they say will come this May. They have threatened to set fire to themselves if any attempt is made to force them to come to the surface.
The sect’s leader, Pyotr Kuznetsov, 43, is currently undergoing psychiatric evaluation in an asylum in Penza, about 600 km (370 miles) southeast of Moscow.
“Investigators commissioned a psychological and linguistic analysis of the books confiscated from [and earlier published by] Pyotr Kuznetsov in November 2007. In the opinion of the specialists, the books contain both the latent and overt promotion of religious and racial intolerance. As a result of these findings, charges were brought,” said Maria Orlova.
Pyotr Kuznetsov has published several books with print runs of around 17,000.
Kuznetsov was earlier charged with “the creation of an organization infringing upon citizens’ rights.”
If he is found mentally fit to stand trial, he could face up to three years in prison if found guilty of the charges, which have now been combined.
The sect leader has not explained why he did not join the group in its snow-covered cave, saying only in late November that, “local drunks beat up our men, and swore at our women. Then God showed us the only path – to move underground,” adding that the sect members had burnt their passports before doing so “as they contain the number of the Beast – 666.”
He also said that the sect had “spent one and a half months, often working nights,” digging out their underground shelter.
“God gave us cover, and angels helped us,” he expounded, adding that the tunnel was “fifty meters in length, and the height of a man.” He also said that the sect had dug out a well and a toilet.
Emergency service workers have recently carried out an operation to prevent thaw waters reaching the cave.
Religion was tightly controlled in the U.S.S.R. and the collapse of the Soviet Union saw an explosion in sects and cults, as well as interest in New Age philosophies and beliefs in Russia and many other former Soviet republics.
There are currently believed to be around 500-700 such sects in Russia, containing some 600,000-800,000 people.