Russians risk jail in 'forbidden art' trial

12th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

A Moscow court was to give its verdict Monday in the controversial trial of a Russian art expert and a museum director accused of inciting religious hatred with an exhibition of provocative art.

Art expert Andrei Yerofeyev and former museum director Yury Samodurov could be jailed for up to three years over the 2007 "Forbidden Art" exhibition at Moscow's Andrei Sakharov Museum, in a case that has alarmed rights campaigners

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.

The Tagansky district court in Moscow was due to give its verdict at around 0800 GMT.

Yerofeyev said ahead of the ruling that the exhibition was not aimed against 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 has given unexpected support to the defendants.

"The prosecutor's demands seem excessive for our society, unjustified and possibly even harmful," Church spokesman Father Vladimir Vigilansky told the Echo of Moscow radio station.

© 2010 AFP

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