Court orders psychiatric treatment for Russian doomsday prophet

Ria Novosti, Russia/August 8, 2008

Penza - A court in central Russia ordered on Friday the leader of a doomsday sect that recently spent more than six months underground waiting for the apocalypse to undergo compulsory psychiatric treatment.

"The defendant [Pyotr Kuznetsov] will not be responsible for the crimes he committed when mentally ill. The court has ordered compulsory treatment for him in a psychiatric ward," Judge Maria Smyslova said.

The judge said that 44-year-old Kuznetsov had urged his followers in the Penza Region, about 600 km (370 miles) southeast of Moscow, to burn their passports, as they "contain the number of the Beast," and incited hatred of other religions and nationalities.

The decision means that charges of 'creating a violent organization' earlier brought against Kuznetsov, who is being held in the Penza psychiatric asylum where he has been kept since last year, are dropped.

Last November, 35 members of the sect went underground to wait for the end of the world, which they initially claimed would come in May. Kuznetsov reportedly said they would be given the power to decide who would be sent to hell and who would go to heaven after the apocalypse.

Following the collapse of the dugout's roof after heavy rain in late March, 24 members of the group came to the surface. It was subsequently revealed that the bodies of two women were buried in the shelter. The remaining members of the sect quit the dugout on May 16.

In early April, Kuznetsov, known to his followers as Father Pyotr, underwent an operation after suffering head wounds that he inflicted upon himself in an apparent suicide attempt.

The first court sessions to decide whether the leader of the sect should be held criminally responsible for his actions were held in the psychiatric ward on July 15. The court then decided however that Kuznetsov was too ill to attend the hearings and switched its sessions to a conventional courtroom.

Russia has seen a great number of sects throughout its history. One of the most famous of these was the Skoptsy, who castrated themselves and cut off women's breasts 'to avoid sexual temptation and sin'. The sect was first reported in the 18th century and is known to have still existed in the 1920s.

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