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Russian artists appeal to Medvedev over exhibition trial

A group of Russian artists Tuesday asked President Dmitry Medvedev to intervene in the case of the organisers of an exhibition of provocative art who are on trial for inciting religious hatred.

Two men, art expert Andrei Yerofeyev and former museum director Yury Samodurov, could be jailed for three years in a case that has alarmed human rights campaigners.

Thirteen renowned artists, including Ilya Kabakov and Erik Bulatov, known for dissident works that satirised the Soviet regime, asked Medvedev to “immediately end this trial” in a letter published Tuesday.

“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, published on the website of Echo of Moscow radio.

“We consider that the case should be immediately halted and the unwarranted charges lifted.”

Yerofoyev, who headed the contemporary art department at the Tretyakov Gallery, organised the exhibition in 2007 at the Andrei Sakharov Museum, where Samodurov was director.

Both men have since been dismissed from their posts.

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.

After complaints from members of conservative Orthodox groups, prosecutors opened an investigation and the men were charged in 2008 with inciting religious hatred through abuse of their official positions.

The maximum sentence is five years, but prosecutors last month called for the men to be jailed for three years.

The verdict is expected to be announced Monday at Moscow’s Tagansky court.

Samodurov was earlier convicted and fined in 2005 for instigating religious hatred with another exhibition.

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.”

A spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church gave unexpected support for the organisers on Monday.

“The prosecutor’s demands seem excessive for our society, unjustified and possibly even harmful,” Father Vladimir Vigilansky told the Echo of Moscow radio station.