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Vladimir Putin

Russian celebrities gather outside court to demand director Kirill Serebrennikov be released

The director, who has used his work to poke fun at the authorities, lashing out at what he sees as the pernicious role of the church and state in Russian society, denies any wrongdoing

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 August, 2017, 7:53pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 August, 2017, 8:36pm

Some of Russia’s most famous actors, celebrities and directors on Wednesday joined crowds outside a Moscow courthouse to demand the release of prominent film and theatre director Kirill Serebrennikov.

However, the court placed Serebrennikov under house arrest on charges of embezzlement, which he has denied.

Serebrennikov, an award-winning director, was detained by investigators on Tuesday and accused of fraud. His supporters say it is part of a government crackdown on the arts ahead of a presidential election next year.

The director, who has used his work to poke fun at the authorities, lashing out at what he sees as the pernicious role of the church and state in Russian society, denies any wrongdoing.

Crowds outside the courtroom on Wednesday chanted “Freedom!” and “Kirill!”

This is a clear signal before the elections
Viktor Shenderovich, writer and director

Writer and director Viktor Shenderovich, who had come to support Serebrennikov, said he thought the case was meant to be a warning to others.

“Kirill Serebrennikov is a world-class director and this is a clear signal before the elections,” Shenderovich told Russian broadcaster TV Rain.

“[The signal is that] no global profile ... or elite will save you from the interests of a repressive state if it decides that it is in its interests to put you on the ground face down.”

Russia’s Investigative Committee said on Tuesday it suspected Serebrennikov of embezzling at least 68 million roubles (US$1.15 million) in state funds earmarked for an art project.

A state prosecutor told the hearing on Wednesday that the director led a criminal group and was a flight risk and should therefore be placed under house arrest.

Serebrennikov’s case has raised an outcry among the country’s liberal cultural elite who say they fear the director was being persecuted for his edgy work.

“I want to be released because I am not guilty,” the director told the judge on Wednesday. “All the accusations made against me are absurd. I’ve been working honestly for many years. I need to finish filming a movie and put shows on.”

Serebrennikov, art director at Moscow’s avant-garde Gogol Centre theatre, faces up to 10 years in jail if found guilty.