Russian yoga cult leader's 11-year sentence upheld

Novosibirsk - The Novosibirsk Regional Court has rejected an appeal filed by Konstantin Rudnev, the former leader of the Ashram Shambala religious cult, thus upholding his 11-year prison sentence, Judge Larisa Goretaya said on Monday.

Rudnev was sentenced by a district court in Novosibirsk on Feb. 7.

Rudnev was convicted under four Criminal Code articles for founding a religious association that infringes on human and civil rights, rape, sexual assault and selling drugs. His lawyers appealed the sentence, claiming that Rudnev's guilt has not been proved.

"The judicial panel ruled to uphold Rundev's sentence, thus rejecting the appeal," the judge said.

Rudnev's defense attorneys earlier described the sentence as unfair because the court failed to take into consideration their arguments based on evidence that Rudnev was not guilty. Rudnev has also denied the charges and stated that he never created a sect.

Rudnev was detained in his summer house outside Novosibirsk in September 2010. The hearings began in July 2011 and were held behind closed doors.

According to the prosecutors, Rudnev called himself the "messiah," or the "stranger from Sirius," who was sent to Earth to save devotees.

He recruited new members at local yoga seminars. He was accused of promoting drug use, forcing participation in orgies and employing psychological abuse, such as sleep deprivation and starvation. Many members donated all their material possessions to the cult.

Investigations opened against Rudnev in 1999, 2004 and 2008, but were closed before reaching the court, as the cult members refused to testify against him.

Authorities have said the cult was established in 1989 in Novosibirsk and has branches in 18 regions across Russia, including Moscow and St. Petersburg. According to the regional prosecutor's office, Rudnev's teachings are based on his book, "The Way of the Fool."

The book ridicules the family and the desire to have children, an education, and to work, but praises blind subordination to the will of the guru, who claims to lead his followers to a better future through abandoning anything that isn't essential.

The sect reportedly has 30,000 members. However, only 16 individuals came forward as aggrieved parties in the case against Rudnev.