Four members of a Muslim sect in the Russian region of Tatarstan have been charged with cruelty against children for allegedly keeping them underground.
The sect’s elderly leader, Faizrakhman Sattarov, who had declared himself a Muslim prophet, was charged with the crime of “arbitrariness”.
Police found 27 children and 38 adults living in catacomb-like cells, dug on eight levels under his home.
No immediate reaction to the charges was reported.
Some children had literally never seen the light of day, Russian media report.
The sect was uncovered in a suburb of the city of Kazan during an investigation into recent attacks on Muslim clerics in Tatarstan, a mainly Muslim region on the River Volga.
Nineteen under-age children were removed by the Russian authorities, some of them placed in care, others in hospital, Russian government-owned newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta reports.
Inspectors who examined the underground complex found fire hazards, poor ventilation and a lack of proper sanitation.
The teachings of Sattarov, who declared himself a prophet, have been rejected by traditional Muslims”
According to the Russian website Islam News, Mr Sattarov, 83, declared himself an Islamic prophet in the mid-1960s after interpreting sparks from a trolleybus cable as a divine light from God.
He and his followers began to shun the outside world in the early part of this century.
The sect, dubbed Faizrakhmanists after their founder, reportedly do not recognise Russian state laws or the authority of mainstream Muslim leaders in Tatarstan.
Only a few sect members were allowed to leave the community to work as traders at a local market, local media report.
The cramped cells descend on eight levels under a decrepit, three-storey brick house on a 700-sq m (7,530 sq ft) plot of land, the Associated Press news agency reports.
The house was built illegally and will be demolished, local police were quoted as saying.
Muslim leaders in Tatarstan said Mr Sattarov’s views contradicted their own.
“Islam postulates that there are no other prophets after Muhammad,” Kazan-based theologian Rais Suleimanov told Russian news website gazeta.ru.
“The teachings of Sattarov, who declared himself a prophet, have been rejected by traditional Muslims.”
Mr Sattarov is said by Rossiyskaya Gazeta to be bedridden and delirious.
The crime of arbitrariness (Article 330 of the Russian penal code) is defined as “unauthorised commission of actions contrary to the order presented by a law or any other normative legal act” and is punishable by up to five years in prison.
On 19 July, Valiulla Yakupov, chief of the educational department of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Tatarstan, was shot and killed at his home.
The same day, Mufti Ildus Fayzov, the head of Tatarstan’s Muslims, was wounded when his car blew up. At least four arrests were made.
There was no suggestion that Mr Sattarov or his followers were connected to the attacks.
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