Cult Leader Accused of Inciting Religious Hatred

Investigators have opened a new criminal investigation into the activities of the leader of a religious doomsday sect in the Penza region, accusing him of inciting religious hatred, a spokeswoman for the Investigative Committee said Monday.

The investigation surrounding Pyotr Kuznetsov is based on 1,284 books belonging to him, a spokeswoman for the Investigative Committee, which is under the auspices of the Prosecutor General's Office said Monday. The spokeswoman, who refused to give her name, would not provide any specifics on the books.

The books were found in Kuznetsov's house in the Bekovo District village of Nikolskoye, said Anton Sharonov, the head of the Penza governor's press office.

Thirty-five of Kuznetsov's followers have been holed up in a cave near Nikolskoye since November, awaiting doomsday, which they expect in May.

Kuznetsov has been detained at a Penza psychiatric hospital since shortly after his followers moved into the cave.

A statement received from the Investigative Committee office in the Penza region said an expert committee of psychologists and linguists had found that "the books contain open and concealed propaganda of religious and ethnic hatred."

In November, Kuznetsov was charged with organizing a religious group associated with violence. If found guilty on that charge, he faces up to two years in jail.

Inciting religious hatred, the new charge, carries a punishment of up to four years' imprisonment.

Kuznetsov is still in the psychiatric hospital, Sharonov said, and his condition is stable.

He was taken to the cave entrance to talk to his followers a few days ago, he said, adding that the situation at the cave had not changed.

"There hasn't been any storming of the cave or attempt to storm it," Sharonov said.

Police, doctors and emergency workers have remained on standby near the cave in case of an incident, and buses with tinted windows and blindfolds have been prepared in case anyone comes out, since the group's members have been living in darkness so long that they could be blinded by daylight, Sharonov said.

Sharonov said the head of the Bekovo district administration, Vladimir Provotorov, talks to the followers regularly.

Provotorov could not be reached for comment Monday.

Emergency Situations Ministry workers recently dug drainage channels to stop melting snow from flooding the cave, said Dmitry Yeskin, the press secretary of the ministry's Penza region branch.

"They didn't touch the cave," Yeskin added.