At least four members of a Muslim "catacomb" sect in Tatarstan have been charged with child abuse for allegedly keeping dozens of children underground without heat, sunlight or proper ventilation for nearly a decade.
Reports say Faizrakhman Sattarov, the sect's 83-year-old leader, was charged with "arbitrariness."
Authorities found about 70 people living in the underground bunker, including 27 children and 38 adults, who were in squalid, catacomb-like cells dug out on eight different levels beneath Sattarov's house near Kazan, Tatarstan's capital.
To passersby on the surface, the complex appears to be a three-story brick house topped by a small minaret with a tin crescent moon and situated on a 700-square-meter plot of land.
Tatarstan police say the house was built illegally and will be demolished.
Some children were born in the underground bunker beneath the building and had never seen the light of day.
The youngest child was 18 months old.
The oldest child, a 17-year-old girl, was found to be pregnant after authorities sent the children to hospitals for medical examinations.
Prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into the sect and have said it will be disbanded if it continues its illegal activities, such as stopping its members from seeking medical assistance or education.
Police also are continuing an investigation into whether the children were being abused in other ways.
Initial reports said a court would decide whether some children will be allowed to stay with their parents.
But some of the parents -- sect members who call themselves "muammin," from the Arabic word for "believers" -- are among those charged with child abuse.
'Saw The Light' In 1960s
The sect was uncovered in a suburb of Kazan on August 1 during an investigation into recent attacks on Tatarstan's Muslim clerics.
The Russian website Islam News says Sattarov declared himself an Islamic prophet in the mid-1960s after interpreting sparks from a trolleybus cable as divine light from God.
The state TV channel Vesti reports that Sattarov also had declared his house an independent Islamic state.
Satarov has also been described as a former deputy to a Sunni Islamic cleric in the 1970s.
Reports say his followers were encouraged to read his manuscripts and most were banned from leaving the eight-level underground bunker to seek medical help or an education.
The sect, dubbed "Faizrakhmanists," does not recognize Russian state law or the authority of Tatarstan's mainstream Muslim leaders.
Authorities said there was no indication that sect members were involved in the attacks on Muslim clerics in Tatarstan.
With reports by Reuters, AP, and Vesti TV