İrem UZUN -TDO- Russian police have stormed a monastery to detain a rebel monk who has castigated the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church leadership and denied the existence of the coronavirus.  In the overnight showdown, police clashed with the priest’s supporters at the Sredneuralsk monastery in the Ural Mountains.

Father Sergiy, whose real name is Nikolai Romanov, gained traction earlier this year after denying the existence of the COVID-19 pandemic, railing against church closures due to the lockdown, and criticizing the Russian Orthodox Church.  The controversial priest seized control of the Sredneuralsky women's monastery near Yekaterinburg in the Urals in June and refused to leave.  Romanov’s lawyer, Svetlana Gerasimova, states the accusations likely stem from a YouTube sermon by Romanov. His lawyer confirmed his detention and said Father Sergiy had been charged with encouraging minors to commit suicide, the Kommersant newspaper reported.

As police brought him to Moscow, some gathered outside the court holding up religious icons and chanting “Father Sergiy, we’re with you”. He is set to remain in custody until February 28 pending trial on charges of driving people to suicide, violating the right to freedom of conscience and fomenting unlawful actions. The Investigative Committee, which handles probes into major crimes, accused him of calling on at least 10 nuns to commit suicide and sharing a video of the sermon online.  He had previously been sentenced to 13 years in jail for murder and robbery but was released in the 1990s, the Committee said in a statement. He denies all charges, his lawyer said.

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