This statement was originally published on pen-international.org on 24 October 2018.
Kirill Serebrennikov must immediately be released from house arrest and all defendants in the so-called "Theatre Case" granted access to a prompt and fair trial, PEN International, Moscow PEN and St Petersburg PEN said today, on the eve of their trial.
One of Russia's most prominent theatre directors, Kirill Serebrennikov has been under house arrest since 23 August 2017 on allegations of fraud regarding the use of state funds, which he denies. The Russian authorities accuse him of embezzling 133 million roubles (approximately US$2 million) awarded from 2011 to 2014 to the Seventh Studio theatre company for a project known as Platform, which aimed to make contemporary dance, music and theatre popular. Investigators claimed that a part of this project, a production of Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream, was never staged. Kirill Serebrennikov denies the accusation, claiming that the play has been performed several times. He faces up to ten years in prison under Article 159.4 of the Russian Criminal Code (large-scale fraud) if convicted.
'Kirill Serebrennikov has been unjustly imprisoned in his home for over a year. He is forbidden from corresponding or making phone calls without the investigators' permission. His ordeal has now been extended until 3 April 2019. This cannot continue, the Russian authorities must release him at once', said Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International.
Kirill Serebrennikov is the artistic director of the Gogol Center, a progressive, experimental theatre known for contemporary productions that often deal with political or sexual themes. He has also espoused views critical of the Russian authorities, which - as many believe - have made him a target of repression.
Although the spending of funding allocated for theatre productions is a notoriously murky process, many artists and intellectuals in Russia have expressed doubts about the grounds for the prosecution, and claim instead that it is politically motivated, framing it in light of the Russian authorities' kerbing of dissenting voices.
'Russia has a rich and influential cultural tradition yet artistic freedom is increasingly under threat. Self-censorship and conformity hampers creativity. When artistic directors such as Kirill Serebrennikov are put on trial, it is the very future of theatre in Russia that is at stake', said Nadezda Azhgikhina, Executive Director of PEN Moscow.
Accused alongside Kirill Serebrennikov are Yuri Itin, Aleksei Malobrodsky, Sophia Apfelbaum, and Ekaterina Voronova, who deny any wrongdoing. The theatre's accountant testified against them as part of a pre-trial deal. Their first court hearing has been set for 25 October 2018.
'The so-called "Theatre Case" has been ongoing for over a year, yet everyone charged with a criminal offence has the right to be tried without undue delay. We call on the Russian authorities to uphold Kirill Serebrennikov and his co-defendants' right to a prompt and fair trial', said Elena Chizhova, Director of St Petersburg PEN.
On 23 May 2017, Kirill Serebrennikov's apartment and the Gogol Center were raided by the police on suspicion of embezzlement.
By that time, the Seventh Studio and Platform project had already been closed, but Yuri Itin, Executive Director, and Aleksei Malobrodsky, General Producer at the initial stage of the project, were arrested in May and June 2017 and placed under house arrest and pre-trial detention, respectively. Aleksei Malobrodsky was released from custody on 14 May 2018 after suffering acute cardiac problems. He signed a document compelling him to remain in Moscow.
Ekaterina Voronova who was General Producer following Aleksei Malobrodsky's departure in 2012, was arrested in abstentia.
Investigators claim that the director, producers and the theatre's accountant falsified data at the behest of Kirill Serebrennikov.
Sophia Apfelbaum, former Culture Ministry official in charge of the project on the Ministry's side and current director of the Russian Academic Youth Theatre, was placed under house arrest in November 2017.
The defendants deny any wrongdoing.
For more information about the state of freedom of expression in Russia, see PEN International, PEN Moscow and St Petersburg PEN's joint report entitled Russia's Strident Stifling of Free Speech 2012-2018. The report, published in October 2018, is available in both English and Russian.