Freedom of Expression

Drop the Charges Against Kirill Serebrennikov

Kirill Serebrennikov is a Russian theatre and film director who was detained on August 22, 2017 in St. Petersburg. The Russian government alleges that he embezzled 68 million roubles (about $1.1 million) of state funds meant to be used for a theatre project between 2011 and 2014, but Serebrennikov maintains his innocence and his supporters argue that the charges are meant to silence his virulent criticism of the Putin regime.

Russian authorities began investigating Serebrennikov in May 2017, questioning him and several other people linked to the Gogol Center, the state-funded theatre that Serebrennikov runs. In a widely shared Facebook post in June, Serebrennikov explained that he’d been accused of siphoning state funds from a project called Platform, which he says the authorities believe never came to fruition. However, the post provided clear evidence that the project had indeed been successful: he included over 100 pictures of posters and tickets from Platform productions that clearly state times and dates of the performances.

Serebrennikov is outspoken about his political beliefs, both in his artistic work and public life. Several years ago he attempted to screen a documentary about Pussy Riot at the Gogol Center, but the screening was cancelled by the Ministry of Culture before it could take place. Last year he expressed his opposition to censorship of artists in Russia, stating that ““everything is returning to the most pathetic Soviet practices”.

Additionally, many believe that the current charges are retribution for using state grants to fund productions critical of Russian society or otherwise not sanctioned by the Kremlin. Just last month, a ballet he had directed about the life of Rudolf Nureyev was cancelled before opening night—officially, it was reported that the production was not ready for performance, but Serebrennikov and his supporters believe it was to do with his honest depiction of homosexual relationships in the piece.

If Serebrennikov goes to trial on these fraud charges, he will join a long list of Russian dissidents faced with show trials meant to send a message intimidating others critical of the regime. Other notable show trials include those of Sergei Magnitsky and political opposition leader Alexei Navalny—both of whom also faced unsubstantiated fraud allegations—as well as Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and feminist punk music group Pussy Riot.

Serebrennikov was arrested in St. Petersburg on August 22, 2017 and confined to house arrest on August 23, where he will await further action on his case.

The Voice Project stands against the Russian government’s record of inflating and fabricating charges against artists and cultural figures like Serebrennikov, and we urge you to join us today in calling for the charges against him to be dropped immediately.

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Message Recipients: Ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations

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