Prosecutors have asked a Moscow court to sentence three members of an ultraconservative group to prison for an arson attack apparently aimed to prevent the screening of a movie depicting an affair between a teenaged ballerina and the future Russian Tsar Nicholas II.
At a hearing on March 29, state prosecutors urged the Khamovniki district court to convict Christian State-Holy Rus activists Yury Kalinin, Aleksandr Bayanov, and Denis Mantalutsa of arson and sentence each of them to 2 1/2 years in prison.
All three defendants pleaded guilty to planning and carrying out an arson attack in September in which two cars were torched outside the Moscow office of lawyers for the director of Matilda, a film that drew sharp criticism from radical Russian Orthodox and monarchist fringe groups.
Masked assailants set the cars on fire outside the office of director Aleksei Uchitel's attorneys and left leaflets that said "Burn for Matilda."
The controversy over Matilda, a fictional film based on an early romantic liaison of Russia's last tsar, cast a spotlight on ultraconservative activists and groups like Christian State-Holy Rus.
Adamant critics of the film said it besmirched the memory of Nicholas, who was executed by the Bolsheviks in 1918 and was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church together with his family in 2000.
A letter signed by Christian State-Holy Rus and distributed in January 2017 said that members across Russia were prepared to sacrifice their lives for its "true Orthodox Christian path" and that showing Matilda could lead to bloodshed and "civil war."
In July 2017, the Culture Ministry approved the film for release and it was scheduled to open nationwide in late October.
But following several attacks appearing to target Uchitel and his film, some Russian cinemas canceled or postponed its screening, citing concerns for the safety of moviegoers.