Russian Monk Who Denied COVID Exists, Called Putin 'Traitor,' Gets Prison Sentence

A Russian monk who denied the existence of COVID-19 and decried President Vladimir Putin as a "traitor" was convicted Tuesday of encouraging suicides and sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison, the Associated Press reported.

Father Sergiy was arrested in late December 2020 after being charged with inciting suicidal actions during sermons in which he encouraged his followers to "die for Russia."

He was also charged with violating the freedom of conscience and committing arbitrary actions, although he denied all the allegations. Upon the announcement of his conviction Tuesday, Father Sergiy reportedly reacted to the verdict by saying "Do not judge and you will not be judged."

His lawyers said that they would appeal the Moscow Ismailovo District Court's decision.

The 66-year-old rebel monk rose to prominence at the onset of the COVID pandemic, when he rejected its existence and described the Russian government's restrictive measures to halt the virus as "Satan's electronic camp." He also helped spread baseless conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and vaccines, including claims that the shots were part of a worldwide campaign to install microchips in recipients.

Sergiy described Putin as a "traitor to the Motherland" who acted on behalf of a Satanic "world government." He also said that Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, and other top religious officials were "heretics" who should be ousted from their roles.

When the government imposed lockdown measures, Sergiy called on his followers to disregard them and barricaded himself in a monastery that he founded near Yekaterinburg. Dozens of volunteers, including some veterans from the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine, joined him to help enforce his rules while the prioress and some nuns at the monastery left.

Russian riot police and secret services eventually stormed the site and arrested him, the Moscow Times reported.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Russian Monk Convicted
Father Sergiy, who castigated the Kremlin and denied the coronavirus existence was convicted Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021 on accusations of encouraging suicides and handed a 3 1/2-year prison sentence. In this handout photo released by Basmanny Court via Moscow News Agency, Father Sergiy, a Russian monk who has defied the Russian Orthodox Church's leadership, stands in a cage prior to a court session in Moscow, Russia, Dec. 29, 2020. Basmanny Court/Moscow News Agency photo via AP

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, who was born as Nikolai Romanov, served as a police officer during Soviet times. After leaving the ranks of law enforcement, he was 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.

If you have thoughts of suicide, confidential help is available for free at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 1-800-273-8255. The line is available 24 hours every day.

Monk Who Chastised Putin Convicted
Father Sergiy, who was sentenced to multiple years in prison Tuesday, described Russian President Vladimir Putin as a "traitor to the Motherland" who acted on behalf of a Satanic "world government." Above, Putin at the Valdai Discussion Club's plenary meeting, on October 21,2021, in Sochi, Russia. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images