PASTOR OF OMSK CHURCH RECEIVES SUSPENDED SENTENCE FOR "PSEUDO-RELIGIOUS" SERMONS AND SPIRITUAL GIFTS
Religiia i Pravo, 25 December 2018
A court in Omsk sentenced to a three and a half years suspended prison term the organizer of the "21st Century Regeneration" religious association of the city of Omsk, Nikolai Kuznetsov, the investigation department of the Investigative Committee of Russia (SKR) for the region reports.
"In rented facilities, Pastor Kuznetsov and his associates conducted training seminars (divine services) and lectures of pseudo-religious contents, using psychotherapeutic methods and psychological influence on audiences, without their consent," the report says.
In the main, the seminars were attended by individual citizens with some kind of personal problems, who were unsettled in social life and of limited material resources.
Each person who came to the meetings was exhorted that he should convert several other persons to faith, after which "he would become wealthy, happy, and spiritually enriched."
Members of the organization gave voluntary donations of ten percent of their income, at the pastor's command.
There also were so-called "family groups," which gathered with a spiritual guide in somebody's home for conducting "religious conversations," during which they danced and sang songs and hymns to rhythmic music.
After such conversations several members noticed a worsening of health, because of which they made statements to the regional investigation committee.
"In the course of the investigation as the result of forensic psychological investigations, eleven members of such educational conversations manifested disturbances in their psyches, including six citizens who were diagnosed with psychiatric disorders," the report notes.
During searches, investigators seized literature of religious contents; books on psychology, psychiatry, and neuro-lingistic programming, and journals with an indication of donations that were made by people in this association, totaling around 300 thousand rubles per month. Some of the income N. Kuznetsov sent to the parent organization located in one of the neighboring countries. During the investigation and trial he did not acknowledge his guilt.
N. Kuznetsov was found guilty on the basis of article 239 of the Criminal Code of the RF (creation of a religious or public association, the activity of which involves violence upon citizens or causing other harm to their health, along with leadership of such an association) and article 111 of the CC of the RF (intentional infliction of severe harm to health).
During the debate of the sides, the state's prosecutor asked the court to send Kuznetsov to a penal colony of strict regime for six years. The defense tried to send the case for further investigation or to get a verdict of acquittal. In the end, weighing all the pros and cons, the judge decided not to incarcerate the pastor and sentenced him to three years and six months suspended, with a similar term of probation.
Besides the suspended sentence, Judge Sergei Kalmykov imposed several restrictions on Pastor Kuznetsov. Thus, during his probation he is forbidden to conduct mass events, including any of a religious nature. In other words, the pastor will not be able to conduct worship services and preach sermons for 3.5 years.
Kuznetsov himself, in conversation with a SuperOmsk correspondent, declared that he does not intend to give in.
"In principle, I am satisfied with the sentence. Sure, they forbade me to conduct religious events, but I have dedicated my life to the service of God long ago and I have no other path. We will think, but we do not intend to give in," Pastor Kuznetsov declared.
We recall that the investigation and trial established that over the course of nearly four years Kuznetsov has conducted worship services and delivered sermons in the 21st Century Regeneration church. During his ministry, the pastor has used techniques of psychological influence and hypnosis. Often after such influences, which parishioners did not even suspect, people began to laugh hysterically, cry, speak in unintelligible tongues, and even fall and thrash in convulsions following Kuznetsov's touch. The pastor himself explained these "eccentricities" as the presence if the Holy Spirit, who casts out demons and heals curses. At the same time, all this "pleasure" was not free—parishioners paid a "tithe," putting ten percent of their total income into preaddressed envelopes. These voluntary compulsory donations were collected up to four times a month and sometime amounted to a total of 200 thousand rubles. Some of this money was given to Pastor Kuznetsov and some went toward rent and other expenses, and 20% of the total was regularly sent to the parent religious center of 21st Century Regeneration in Ukraine.
It should be said that the criminal case on the basis of the article "Creation of a religious community whose activity involves violence" was one of the first in the country. Now a law enforcement practice has appeared in the judicial community. However the incident in Omsk is still not finished. The state prosecutor and the defendant Kuznetsov himself are thinking about appealing the sentence. And the business of the 21st Century Regeneration church will thrive prosperously under another label, the "Church of the Living God." This organization is registered to the pastor's spouse, Alexandra Kuznetsova. (tr. by PDS, posted 25 December 2018)
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