Hardcore Russian Christians jailed for torching cars in Matilda movie controversy

Three members of the extremist group “Christian State” have received prison sentences for setting cars on fire in a protest over a 2017 film about a romance between the last Russian emperor and a ballet dancer.

All three members were sentenced to two years in prison by the Khamovniki District Court in Moscow, Interfax news agency reported. They pleaded guilty and said that they regretted their actions. The pleas allowed the trial to be expedited and their sentences were lower than the 2.5 years sought by prosecutors.

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The incident that resulted in the prosecution took place in September 2017, shortly before the Russian premiere of the movie Matilda. The film is based on the true story of a romance between Nicholas Romanov, the last Russian tsar, and ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya.

The plot of the movie and its production by well-known director Aleksey Uchitel caused a series of protests by Russian officials and ordinary citizens, who did not like the way it portrayed the last Russian emperor, who has been canonized as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church.

At one point, a lawyer representing Uchitel reported that unidentified people had set fire to cars parked near his office in downtown Moscow. When investigators examined the scene, they found several notes reading “Burn for Matilda,” and initiated a criminal case of deliberate damage to property. Three suspects were later detained by police.

One of those was a brother of the head of the “Christian State” extremist group, which came to prominence for its opposition to the Matilda movie. The groups leader is currently on trial for inciting hatred and strife, but was only questioned as a witness in connection with the arson investigation.

The arson was not the most serious incident in the broader Matilda controversy. In late August 2017, someone attempted to set fire to Uchitels studio in St. Petersburg; and in early September, a man drove a burning truck loaded with gas cylinders into a Ekaterinburg theater, where the movie was due to be shown.

Russian Orthodox believers even held a mass protest rally in St. Petersburg in a bid to prevent its release. Around 100,000 people took part in this event.

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