- 29 Aug 17
Leading figures in the arts world are urging Russian authorities to drop embezzlement charges against award-winning theatre director Kirill Serebrennikov.
Irish playwright Enda Walsh is one of 36 initial signees of a change.org petition which calls on Russia's public prosecutor to abandon what they see as a "flimsy" case against Serebrennikov.
The petition was penned by two German theatre figures— director Thomas Ostermeier and playwright Marius von Mayenburg—who claim the arrest was "politically motivated".
"We protest against the arrest of Kirill Serebrennikov," the petition reads. "The charges against him are untenable and indicative of the fact that the intention is to silence an internationally renowned director."
Cate Blanchett and Nina Hoss are among the supporters who have signed the online petition, as are director Simon McBurney, playwright David Harrower and artist Sophie Calle.
Kirill Serebrennikov was arrested August 22 on accusations of embezzling 68 million roubles (€963,000) of government funds, which sparked fear in the arts world of a crackdown of dissenting voices. His supporters claim the charges are an effort to silence the director, whose work is often critical of political conditions in Russia.
Russian officials have denied any political subtext for the charges. Russia's culture minister Vladimir Medinsky told local news channel NTV "this was not a political order. It also has nothing to do with Serebrennikov’s art. There are some people who like it and there are a very large number of people who don’t, but nobody here is targeting him as an artist."
Serebrennikov has described the case against him as "absurd and schizophrenic", saying all of the state funds he was granted were spent on theatre productions including one of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Investigators claim the show never ran.
The director has been placed under house arrest until October 19, during which time he is required to wear and ankle monitor and has been barred from accessing the Internet. He is only allowed visits from close family members.
If convicted, Serebrennikov can face up to ten years in prison.