By Andrea Arroyo, CNN • Updated 4th July 2016
(CNN) — A Russian monk whose role in the 2015 coronavirus outbreak was likened to “playing God” by the British government has been given a four-year prison sentence, Russian authorities announced Monday.
Konstantin Bergman was convicted on Friday for sharing the virus with other people while he was a monk at Saint-Iakovos Monastery in what the Kremlin spokesman likened to a guilty plea.
The conviction and sentence were delivered last week, but announced Monday by the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the Prosecutor General’s Office, denied in a statement that Bergman was “a blasphemer and a religious extremist,” as people on social media had claimed.
“The monk pled guilty as charged and he’s received the sentence as requested,” Markin said.
Bergman “engaged in various intellectual activities without due supervision by local authorities,” the statement said.
It called on other priests to take care of the treatment of the disease “so it can be controlled.”
Coronavirus finds wide use of pseudonyms
Bergman first came into the public eye after it was revealed that he had shared the virus on his Facebook page.
As its name suggests, the virus is from the same family as the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS).
But that the 2-year-old Mangrove Mountain Research Centre report that found the virus appeared in writings by Bergman “broke the rules of natural scientific inquiry” and had an “objective public interest component,” according to the UK’s Department of Health.
The Department of Health has linked Bergman to the virus outbreak and declined to name the victims.
The story took on a life of its own on social media, where some Russian netizens claimed that Bergman had been persecuted for his beliefs, and accused the government of a cover-up.
Despite being named in international news reports and government investigations, Bergman has repeatedly denied having anything to do with the virus, insisting on his innocence.
Suleiman Al-Khawaja, deputy director of the Maldives’ Health Ministry, said the virus in Almogovina had found its way into the water supply and the air.
Al-Khawaja said in November that 14 Maldivians had been infected, six of whom had died, and two of whom were pregnant. No new cases of the disease have been reported since January.
Bergman, who has been locked up since May 2015, had faced up to five years in prison on two charges, namely spreading harmful information and disseminating the SARS coronavirus.