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Instagram blocks Russian bishop who said refusing Covid-19 jabs is 'a sin,' after anti-vaxxers reportedly complain to social site

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One of Russia’s most senior Orthodox Church officials, Metropolitan Hilarion, has been blocked from Instagram after urging followers to get vaccinated against coronavirus or forever live with the shame, the top bishop has claimed.

Speaking to RIA Novosti on Wednesday, the priest, who heads the public relations division of the Church in Moscow, said his account had been deactivated because of his recent comments. He said he had received a notification that the decision had been taken because he engaged in “inappropriate behavior after numerous warnings from the administration,” involving the “publication of content that violates laws or the rights of others.”

Metropolitan Hilarion made headlines on Monday after telling news channel Rossiya 24 that his parishioners regularly repented to him for not signing up for the vaccine. “They come and say, ‘How am I supposed to live with this now?’ And it’s hard for even me to say how to live with it,” he explained. “All your life, you have to make up for the sin you committed.”

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“The sin is thinking about yourself, instead of thinking about other people,” the bishop said. “We are responsible – each of us – not only for ourselves and not only for our loved ones, but also for all those who come into contact with us.”

However, according to the Metropolitan, those outraged by the comments have since protested to Instagram, which is owned by US social media giant Facebook. “I am very sorry that the social network responds with these kinds of methods to complaints of those who oppose vaccination and try to block any alternative opinion,” he said. “But I will express my point of view regardless of this, because we are talking about saving lives.”

Before the account was suspended, the bishop had around 52,000 subscribers. He has backed Moscow’s program of mandatory vaccination for public-facing workers, including those in industries such as hospitality and transport. Officials have confirmed that companies can suspend staff who refuse, in order to meet the requirement for 60% of their workforce to be immunized and avoid hefty fines for falling foul of the rules.

Earlier on Wednesday, the mayor of the Russian capital, Sergey Sobyanin, said the measures were leading to an “astronomical” number of people signing up for their jab. In the past 24 hours alone, 105,000 people have received a dose, he revealed.

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