Four members of a reclusive Muslim sect in the Russian region of Tatarstan have been charged with cruelty against children for allegedly keeping them underground.
Police found 27 children and 38 adults living in catacomb-like cells, dug on eight levels under the home of the sect's founder. It is not clear how long the children were kept underground.
The founder, 83-year-old Faizrakhman Satarov, who declared himself a Muslim prophet in contradiction with the principles of Islam, was also charged with negligence and arbitrariness on Wednesday, Irina Petrova, deputy prosecutor in the provincial capital of Kazan, told the Associated Press news agency.
No members of the sect, who call themselves "muammin" after the Arabic term that means "believers", have been arrested, Petrova said.
The sect was uncovered in a suburb of the city of Kazan during an investigation into recent attacks on Muslim clerics in Tatarstan, a mainly Muslim region on the River Volga.
Satarov, a former top imam in the neighbouring province of Bashkortostan, declared his house outside Kazan an independent Islamic state. He and his followers began to shun the outside world in the early part of this century.
The sect, dubbed Faizrakhmanists after their founder, does not recognise Russian state laws or the authority of mainstream Muslim leaders in Tatarstan.
Satarov ordered some 70 followers to live in cells they dug under the three-storey building topped by a small minaret with a tin crescent moon. Only a few sect members were allowed to leave the premises to work as traders at a local market, Russian media reported.
The freed children have been placed in local hospitals for observation and will temporarily live in an orphanage, Tatyana Moroz, a paediatrician, said in televised remarks.
The cramped cells, without ventilation, heating or electricity, form eight levels under a decrepit three-storey brick house on a 700-square-metres plot of land.