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Russia prison chief rejects claim jail yoga could 'turn inmates gay'

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By Rachael Kennedy
Russia prison chief rejects claim jail yoga could 'turn inmates gay'

One of Russia's prisons chiefs has been forced to pour cold water on the idea holding yoga classes in jail would draw inmates towards homosexuality.

It came after a theologist's controversial prediction that doing the exercises would lead to riots and "the emergence of homosexual relations".

The comments, which have gripped Russia's press, were first reported in the Moscow-based Moskovskij Komsomolets.

The newspaper said it had obtained a letter sent by Russian politician Elena Mizulina to the prosecutor general asking for a probe into yoga in prisons.

Included in her request was a letter by theology professor Alexander Dvorkin, who claimed holding such classes could cause "uncontrolled sexual arousal" and lead to "homosexual relations."

As the classes are usually offered first and foremost to inmates working in the canteen, Dvorkin noted, prisoners may be averse to eating "slop from the hands of gays", and would therefore riot.

'The classes will remain'

Yoga was introduced to Russia's prisons last year and was seen to have a positive effect on inmates.

But according to Russian media, the classes were suspended last month following Mizulina's request.

Valery Maximenko, the deputy head of Russia's prison service, rejected the theologist's claims in a radio interview earlier this week.

"No one will be drawn to homosexuality," he said, before adding that even if yoga was proven to have such an effect, that homosexuality was not illegal, and "everyone has the right to choose their own path".

"We will settle all these issues this week," he said. "The classes will remain."

'Fake news'

Following widespread coverage in Russian media, both Mizulina and Dvorkin claim they have been victimised, with the former accusing the press of spreading fake news, and the latter saying his quotes were taken out of context.

Mizulina is known for authoring Russia's gay propaganda law, which is described by Human Rights Watch as "political homophobia". She has criticised her country's media for claiming that she called for prison yoga lessons to be outright revoked.

However, Dvorkin said his attitude toward inmate yoga classes remained "negative", relating to the yoga teacher and type of yoga being practised.

The Hinduism-inspired Kundalini yoga is not compatible with Christianity, and has an "extremely scandalous reputation", he said.

"Kundalini yoga is based primarily on the tantric practices of arousal among adherents of sexual energy, and attempts to redirect it to achieve 'enlightenment'."

In a separate post, Dvorkin said the focus of his letter to Mizulina was on the need to verify practices, especially "with such dependent people as prisoners".