Law enforcement moves against Russian sect in Siberia


Sergei Torop, Vladimir Vedernikov, and Vadim Redkin will remain in custody until 22 November

TASS, 23 September 2020


The Central district court of Novosibirsk on Tuesday placed Sergei Torop into custody; he is the founder of the Church of the Last Testament who calls himself Vissarion. Also detained were leaders of the religious association, Vladimir Vedernikov and Vadim Redkin. All three are charged with creation of a religious association whose activity is accompanied by the use of force against people.


The court imposed on them a pre-trial prevention measure in the form of detention in custody for two months, until 22 November. The leader of the association is Sergei Torop, who calls himself Vissarion. Similar charges were brought against him.


Torop told journalists that he disagrees with the charges. He cast doubt on the words of victims, adding that he has never seen several of them. "If an argument is made that there was pressure on my part upon those who declared this, then these people have been living close by for many years. And everybody knows that, being in difficult circumstances, they constantly complain somewhere and express discontent. . . . I never saw one of them. I saw one 15 years ago. In recent years, three of these families have constantly created some difficulties and complained somewhere," the head of the religious association said.


The defense attorney for the leaders of the Church of the Last Testament is appealing the court's decision. Attorney Ivan Khoroshev reported this to TASS on Wednesday.


"Of course. We will appeal for all three," Khoroshev said, replying to a question about an appeal from TASS.


The 59-year-old Sergei Torop, a former officer of the traffic police in Minusinsk (Krasnoyarsk territory), created in the early nineties a religious organization, which later was called the Church of the Last Testament. It is reported that he called himself Christ the Son of God, with the name Vissarion. A former rock musician who once was a member of the group Integral, Redkin is considered Torop's aide and often acts as his press secretary. Vedernikov is considered the director of a private school where children of members of the society study.


On Tuesday morning, personnel of law enforcement agencies arrested three leaders of the local religious organization Church of the Last Testament. According to information from the S.K.R. [Investigative Committee of Russia], since 1991, Torop, Vadim Redkin, and Vedernikov exercised the leadership of this organization. It is planned to file charges against them for committing the crimes defined in part 1 of article 239, and points a and b of part 2 of article 111 of the Criminal Code of the R.F. ("Creation of a religious association whose activity involves violence against citizens, causing serious harm to the health of two or more persons").


According to information of the S.K.R., in order to get income from religious activity, the detained leaders of the society solicited financial contributions from citizens. They also used psychological force, as the result of long-term exposure to which some followers suffered serious harm to their health.


The center of the Church of the Last Testament is located in the so-called "Abode of Dawn" in the Kuragino district in the south of the Krasnoyarsk territory. (tr. by PDS, posted 23 September 2020)



Komsomolskaia Pravda, 23 September 2020


For 30 years, Sergei Torop has been building his state in the taiga of Krasnoyarsk territory and messing with the minds of Russians and foreigners, telling them that he is the last Jesus Christ.


The end of the world, for which thousands of adherents of the sect "Church of the Last Testament" have been preparing for many years, came on 22 September. To be sure, in the literal sense the world has not collapsed, but the earth under the feet of the organizers and large flock has been clearly shaken. The heavens opened up and security forces descended into the picturesque natural corner on the bank of Lake Tiberkul in Krasnoyarsk in a green helicopter. Vissarion and two of his chief aides were taken to Novosibirsk and arrested. The society was left without its tsar. Why the Siberian false Jesus wound up behind bars and what danger one of the most closed religious organizations conceals within itself is the subject for Komsomolskaia Pravda—Novosibirsk.


How the society lived


The 59-year-old Sergei Torop, who calls himself Vissarion and the new Christ, ruled an enormous society rather successfully. His orders were fulfilled without questioning and his opinion was considered to be the only correct one. He himself wrote the laws for his religious state and he punished his wards for their offenses. He was like a Siberian god who was obeyed and worshipped, and given gifts. Incidentally, about the gifts.


All residents of the society, when they came and left their secular life, brought with them all their savings and also the money received from the sale of their personal immovable property. This was considered an admission fee, but it did not always affect Vissarion's decision about admission into the ranks of the church.


"There was a case known when a man sold all his property and sent the money to Vissarion, who refused him transfer into the society," a source close to the investigation described for KP-Novosibirsk. "In the end the man was not able to come to terms with the unjust refusal and he could not imagine how he could live any more. A tragedy occurred; he took his own life.


"Actually, people surrendered the money from the apartments they sold, that is true, but I never understood them. We sold the apartment and bought a house there with that money. And those who surrendered everything simply shifted the responsibility, like I give you money and you give me a beautiful life. All of this charitableness was never obligatory," a reader, Liudmila Simonenko, wrote to us. She herself lived in the society for several years. "As regards suicides—yes, there were some, but these were really psychologically abnormal people, because I never observed any reasons for such acts.


Rules of the "City of the Sun"


Actually, there were very many people who wished to conduct a romantic religious form of life in the taiga. To the "City of the Sun" in the Kuragino district of Krasnoyarsk territory came pilgrims from throughout Russia and even foreigners.


"Peculiar laws of life function in the society. They pertain to a healthy diet. In the main, everybody becomes vegetarians and they reject alcohol and nicotine. Peasants especially like it there. According to Vissarion's testaments it is permitted to have two wives. All working members of the society are supposed to pay the false-Jesus a kind of tithe for residing on the territory. At the same time, each family builds its own house by their own efforts," our source continues.


Another interesting observation relates to holidays in the society. Only three are celebrated there: 14 April, Earth Day and the day of Vissarion's conception; 18 August, the day of the descent of the Kingdom of Power and good fruits; and 14 August, the Nativity of Vissarion Christ, which is the same as the birthday of Sergei Torop himself.


What was found during the search


At the time of Vissarion's arrest it was publically declared that he has no mercenary interests.


"I'll tell you a great secret. For 30 years I have done everything for free," the detainee admitted. "All our sacraments are done without money. None of us directs anything. They arrive themselves and do something. Somebody at some time may find himself dissatisfied with something. And two people show up who are displeased. And so they concoct everything. . . .


But there is the suspicion that Vissarion himself concocts very well. As proof of this serve the 18 volumes of "Last Testaments" written by him and the enormous sums of dollars and rubles confiscated during a search in the houses of the sectarians.


In addition to everything, as it turned out, the dry law was not observed there. Alcohol was found in the homes. It may be a coincidence, but Torop was kicked out of the police where he served as an inspector before his "epiphany" for his own drunkenness. But most alarming of all was the store of weapons and shells in the home of one of the companions of the messiah. One wonders what all this was about for vegetarians who do not hunt for game. Had they really prepared a crusade?


What did they come to Vissarion for?


Investigators paid attention to the sect two years ago because of a tragedy. An infant, a boy, in a family of Vissarion's followers, died.


"A criminal case is pending for the death of a child; presumably it was faith that prevented the parents from getting help from 'worldly doctors,'" our source reported.


But the arrest of Vissarion and his aides is connected with other charges. A statement was written against Vissarion by former devotees. One of them spent 20 years in the sect and is now under treatment by a psychiatrist. Doctors declared that the society caused serious harm to the health of the man. Both Sergei Torop and two of his chief aides are charged under the article "Creation of a religious association whose activity involves use of force on citizens or other causes of harm to their health." In essence the point is the creation of a dangerous totalitarian sect, a serious charge for which one can get up to four years.


What do the sectarians say?


The detainees themselves are puzzled in court: where did so many charges come from?  They try to justify themselves and rely on pity.


"This is inhuman!" thinks Vadim Redkin, another long-haired companion of Vissarion, who before becoming a hermit was a musician in the group Tender May. "I have a wife and three small children in the taiga. It will be hard for them without me. And these people who wrote complaints against us—they are psychologically unwell."


Vissarion seems to be happy with his publicity. He smiles for journalists' cameras and swears that he has done nothing wrong. He did not take money. He preached for free.


What's next?


It remains to be seen what kind of interaction Sergei Torop and his sect have managed to work out with authorities in Krasnoyarsk territory. Why, despite numerous complaints and statements with strong evidentiary base, which have been submitted previously, have people continually refused to open criminal cases?


"Actually the locals encouraged the creation and development on the territory of the Russian Federation of a separate state—Vissarionia," Professor Alexander Dvorkin, an investigator of contemporary religious sectarianism in Russia, emphasized on Radio Komsomolskaia Pravda. "At the entrance there were checkpoints: whom they wanted, they admitted, and whom they did not want, they did not admit. The local police preferred not to stick their nose in there. Everything that happened there was completely ignored. The children studied in their own schools there and their own system existed there, or more accurately an anti-system of health care. People were kept in complete isolation, were exploited, that is, actually people were serfs and nobody really cared. And judging by everything, there was a serious criminal grouping there.


For now the leaders of Vissarionia are sitting in an investigation cell, and their wards are continuing to live at large, in the woods. There are neither more nor fewer people there; several thousand. The question arises: what will become of them now?


"It's all bad for the people," says the head of the Civil Rights Center of the World Russian People's Sobor, Roman Silantiev. "Most likely, they completely lack social ties outside the boundaries of the sect: neither a circle of fellowship nor property. Apparently a second generation of devotees already is living there. The main thing is that it is not necessary to drive them out of there. The people have houses there, everyday life, economy. They have existed there about 20 years now as a kind of ecosettlement in a modified form.


The specialist cites examples of other such organizations, where a flock has been deprived of a leader and continued to conduct their habitual form of life. The main requirement on them is to observe the law of the Russian Federation and not to conduct agitation. (tr. by PDS, posted 23 September 2020)


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