Leader of major Russian sect detained in Siberia

RIA Novosti, Russia/October 20, 2008

Novosibirsk, October 28 (RIA Novosti) - Police have detained the leader of Ashram Shambala, one of Russia's largest sects, near the West Siberian city of Novosibirsk, a deputy police chief said on Tuesday.

Konstantin Rudnyev, 41, established Ashram Shambala in 1989. The sect operates as a network of "ashrams," or small communities living in the same house or apartment, and has branches in more than 20 major Russian cities, as well as in Ukraine, Greece and Denmark.

The sect was estimated in 1999 as having approximately 10,000-15,000 members. The amount of current members is unknown.

Rudnyev, who calls himself "the Great Shaman Shri Dzhnan Avatar Muni," was detained on October 23, when a special police unit raided two apartments in the Novosibirsk Region shortly after receiving information that the sect leader had returned to West Siberia from Russia's second largest city of St. Petersburg.

He was put on the federal wanted list in the 1990s after it was determined that the sect's ideology was "anti-social and anti-family, deliberately opposing itself to society in general."

The police operation was aimed at freeing several sect members, including an underage girl from Belarus.

"We seized a number of books and ritual objects," said Igor Stepanchenko, deputy head of Novosibirsk's anti-organized crime department.

"Rudnyev was hiding in an apartment in Berdsk [a town in the Novosibirsk Region]," Russia's popular tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda quoted a police source as saying. "However, according to Russian law, we could not just break the door down without any reason. Luckily, in one of the apartments a missing underage girl from Minsk was staying, who was also involved in another criminal case."

In the apartment police seized 23 laptops, a large amount of suspected psychotropic substances, and a small amount of marijuana.

For almost 20 years the "Great Shaman" led the sect, based on strict hierarchical principles. He had two close assistants and the middle level consisted of "teachers," who recruited new members at seminars and via the Internet. To join the sect, new members had to sacrifice their apartments and other property to the organization and to move to an ashram.

Sect members are reportedly only allowed to sleep 3-4 hours a day, ate only strict vegetarian food two times a day, and went to the bathroom only after receiving permission from their teacher. According to several Russian news sources, group sex and violence are standard teaching methods.

In 1998, police in Novosibirsk tried to bring the "Great Shaman" to justice but he escaped and is thought to have spent five years in the sect's branches abroad. In 2004, he returned to Novosibirsk and was later detained in the Siberian village of Plotnikovo.

Psychiatrists subsequently ruled that he was criminally insane. Rudnyev was then put in a mental asylum, from which he successfully fled some time later.

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