Russian orthodox monk who denied the COVID-19 pandemic is jailed

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Father Sergiy appears in court session in Moscow.
Father Sergiy appears in court session in Moscow.   -   Copyright  Basmanny Court, Moscow News Agency photo via AP, File   -  

A Russian orthodox monk, who denied the existence of COVID-19, has been jailed for inciting suicide.

Father Sergiy was arrested in December 2020 after giving sermons that urged believers to "die for Russia".

He was convicted on Tuesday of inciting suicidal actions, breaching the freedom of conscience, and making arbitrary moves.

The court in Moscow sentenced the rebel monk to three-and-a-half years in prison.

Father Sergiy -- who has regularly criticised the Kremlin -- rejected the accusations and his lawyers said they would appeal the verdict.

The 66-year-old has always denied the novel coronavirus exists and has condemned Russian government efforts to stem the spread of the virus.

Father Sergiy is also known for spreading debunked conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and falsely claiming that coronavirus vaccines were being developed as part of a supposed global plot to control people through microchips.

The monk urged his followers to disobey lockdown restrictions while he barricaded himself at a monastery near Yekaterinburg with dozens of supporters.

He was arrested last year at the convent after a special nighttime operation by riot police and security forces.

The Russian Orthodox Church stripped Father Sergiy of his abbot’s rank for breaking monastic rules and later excommunicated him, but he rejected the rulings and ignored police investigators’ summons.

Facing stiff resistance by hundreds of his supporters, church officials and local authorities appeared reluctant to evict him for months.

Father Sergiy -- born Nikolai Romanov -- previously served as a Soviet police officer but was later convicted of murder, robbery, and assault and sentenced to 13 years in prison. He joined a church school after his release and later became a monk.