Russia sentences director, playwright to 6 years for ‘justifying terrorism’

MOSCOW (Reuters) -A Russian court sentenced a playwright and a theatre director each to six years in prison on Monday for “justifying terrorism”, concluding a trial that rights campaigners had said demonstrated Russia’s intolerance of artistic freedom.

Director Zhenya Berkovich, 39, and playwright Svetlana Petriychuk, 44, were arrested in May last year over their production of a play called “Finist, the Brave Falcon”, about Russian women who marry Islamic State fighters.

The case was the most prominent prosecution of Russian cultural figures over the content of their artwork since Moscow sent troops into Ukraine in 2022. Both denied guilt.

The seven-week trial was condemned by free speech campaigners and Russia’s artistic community as politically motivated.

Partway through the trial, judge Yuri Massin approved a request from prosecutors to close the proceedings to the public over alleged threats to some participants.

Defence lawyer Kseniya Karpinskaya vowed to appeal the verdict and sentence.

“We will, of course, appeal this ruling, although we have little hope,” she told supporters outside the court in a video clip posted on social media.

“But I want you to know that they are absolutely innocent. Nothing new was produced in the closed sitting.”

At the start of their trial in late May, Berkovich and Petriychuk said they had staged the play because they oppose terrorism rather than support it.

“I staged the performance to prevent terrorism,” Berkovich, told the court. Towards terrorists, she said, “I have nothing but condemnation and disgust”.

(Reporting by ReutersWriting by Lucy PapachristouEditing by Peter Graff and Ron Popeski)




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