November 19, 2010

Russian Sectarian Priest "Mesmerises" Followers Into Seclusion

November 17, 2010

"On Tuesday, a helicopter of the emergency situations ministry evacuated six Orthodox (believers), five nuns and one priest," a spokeswoman for the ministry in Russia's Tuva region, Lidia Selivanova, told AFP.

The nuns – two of them disabled – lived since June 2006 in the Sayan Mountains, where they had retreated with their spiritual leader, Father Konstantin, 67, Ms Selivanova said.

The operation was decided by the authorities after a nun, who had fled the group, claimed in a letter to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, that Father Konstantin controlled his disciples "by mesmerising them."

"These people want to return but they are not allowed to ... and five are already dead", the letter sent to Mr Putin in September read, as cited by Ms Selivanova.

The group, consisting originally of 30 Orthodox believers, including five children, had occasional contacts with residents of the closest villages, situated some 100 kilometres (65 miles) away and geologists working in the region.

Local officials visited the group in February 2008 and "established that all members of the group ... were in the forest of their own free will," Ms Selivanova said.

Most group members, including a family with five children, have previously left the forest and returned home.

Officials also found the graves of five people who died – according to the group members – of natural causes, Ms Selivanova added.