Russian experts guilty in 'Forbidden Art' trial
A Moscow court on Monday found two organisers of a 2007 Russian exhibition of provocative art guilty of inciting hatred, after a trial fiercely criticised by rights activists and artists.
Art expert Andrei Yerofeyev and former museum director Yury Samodurov "committed actions aimed at inciting hatred", judge Svetlana Alexandrova said in the verdict at the Tagansky district court, Russian news agencies reported.
The exhibition insulted the feelings of religious believers and was motivated by a "criminal intent" on the part of the accused men, the judge said.
The pair now risk being jailed for up to three years over the 2007 "Forbidden Art" exhibition at Moscow's Andrei Sakharov Museum when sentencing is announced later.
The exhibition included a print of Jesus with the head of Mickey Mouse and a spoof ad for Coca-Cola sloganed "This is my Blood", which visitors had to view through peepholes.
An ultra-nationalist Orthodox group, Council of the People, filed a complaint and prosecutors opened an investigation. The pair were charged in 2008 with inciting religious hatred through abuse of their official positions.
Russian contemporary artist German Vinogradov told AFP that the verdict contradicted freedoms enshrined in the Russian constitution.
"The decision was not unexpected. It's clear that it's a trend. It's clear that many people are against this art, but we have a constitution... We need to respect the constitution."
Yerofeyev said ahead of the ruling that the exhibition was not aimed at the Orthodox Church but simply to protest what he described as growing censorship in art.
"I thought that this would cause controversy with the ministry of culture and other institutions," he told AFP. "But not within the church or with fascists."
"Society is sick. It still has problems with its reflection in the mirror -- art," he added.
However Oleg Kassin, a representative of the Council of the People that brought the complaint, defended the legal action saying he had been disgusted by the exhibition which contained "anti-Christian" images.
"If you like expressing yourself freely, do it at home, invite some close friends," he told AFP.
"But from the moment that such an exhibition takes place in a public space, and especially if it contains insults, it's no longer art but a provocation."
Last week 13 renowned Russian artists, including Soviet-era dissidents Ilya Kabakov and Erik Bulatov, published an open letter addressed to President Dmitry Medvedev asking him to "immediately end this trial".
"A guilty verdict ... would be a sentence for the whole of Russian contemporary art and would be another step towards the introduction of cultural censorship," said the letter.
The support from some of Russian art's biggest names came after Culture Minister Alexander Avdeyev spoke up for the defendants last month, saying they did not "cross the red line of the law."
Even the Russian Orthodox Church itself had given unexpected support to the defendants, with a spokesman saying "the prosecutor's demands seem excessive for our society, unjustified and possibly even harmful."
Yerofoyev, who headed the contemporary art department at the Tretyakov Gallery, organised the exhibition at Andrei Sakharov Museum, where Samodurov was director.
Both men have since been dismissed from their posts.
© 2010 AFP