Radio Free Europe

RFE/RL journalists report the news in 22 countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established, including Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Russia.

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Rebellious Russian Priest Sentenced To 3 1/2 Years In Prison.

A court in Moscow has sentenced an ultraconservative, coronavirus-denying Russian priest who was stripped of his religious rank to 3 1/2 years in prison on charges of vigilantism, violating the right to religious freedom, and encouraging suicide.
The Izmailovo district court pronounced the verdict and sentence of Father Sergiy (Nikolai Romanov) on November 30. Father Sergiy, who was arrested in December 2020, maintained his innocence throughout his trial. The priest was arrested after law enforcement raided his convent in the Sverdlovsk region. Parishioners and some clergy skirmished with the police during the arrest of the rogue priest, who was then sent to Moscow, where he has since been held in a detention center.

Father Sergiy made headlines in June 2020 after he took over the Sredneuralsk Women's Monastery in the Urals by force with help from Cossack guards.
He was later stripped of his religious rank by the diocesan court in the Sverdlovsk region for what the court called disobeying Russian Orthodox Church authorities. Father Sergiy is known for his public praising of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, for calling the coronavirus pandemic a Western plot, and for publicly condemning the Russian Orthodox Church's order in April, 2020 to stop church services to prevent the spreading of the virus. After forcibly taking over the convent, Father Sergiy issued political statements saying that constitutional amendments proposed by President Vladimir Putin "would legalize a slave-owning system." The constitutional changes approved last year allow Putin, who has ruled Russia as president or prime minister for more than 21 years, to stay in power until 2036 if he chooses to run again after his current term ends in 2024.

With reporting by Interfax and TASS

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