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Museum Director Yuri Samodurov at the opening of the exhibition in 2007
Russian state prosecutors have asked for a three-year jail sentence for the organizers of a controversial art exhibition three years ago, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

The organizers of the 2007 "Forbidden Art" exhibit -- former Sakharov Museum Director Yuri Samodurov and art historian Andrei Yerofeyev -- are on trial on charges of "debasing the religious beliefs of citizens and inciting religious hatred."

Prosecutors made the request on June 21.

The exhibition was comprised of art that had not been authorized for exhibition in Russia. Many of the works are a Soviet realist style and combined Soviet and religious iconography. A painting by American artist Vagrich Bakhchanyan shows a Soviet-era medal of Vladimir Lenin superimposed on a cross so as to give the impression that the Bolshevik leader was being crucified.

Because the art being shown was considered to be shocking, the curators warned that the exhibition was not suitable for children under 16.

Former world chess champion and opposition leader Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Ryzhkov, an economics professor in Moscow and former Duma deputy, testified in defense of the exhibition.

"In this country, people are basically censored from saying their own opinion, in this case though art," Kasparov told RFE/RL last month.

"You can agree or disagree with artistic expression, but it is glaringly apparent that this discussion is not about antireligious propaganda or the agitation of religious followers."

"Forbidden Art" was to be part of a yearly cycle of shows organized by the Sakharov Museum and focused on analyzing and debating censorship of culture and art. But they were discontinued after the controversy triggered by the 2007 exhibit.
Rovshan Nasirli being detained by police at a pro-democracy rally in Baku on June 19.
Remember Rovshan Nasirli, the Azerbaijani man who drew unwelcome attention from Baku security officials when he voted for rival Armenia in the 2009 Eurovision song contest?

Interrogators from the National Security Ministry traced the rogue vote for Inga and Anush's "Jan-Jan" to Nasirli's mobile phone, then summoned him in for questioning and a stern lecture on "ethnic pride" and "national security." (Nasirli may have stirred the pot by praising the Armenian song as sounding "more Azeri" than Azerbaijan's own offering.)

More than a year after the Eurovision scandal, Nasirli is back in the news.

RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports the 26-year-old was detained and beaten by police after attending a June 19 pro-democracy rally organized by the Freedom Bloc opposition group in Baku.

Jamil Hajiyev, a member of Azerbaijan's Democratic Party, was among five protesters detained during the rally. He told RFE/RL that when the detainees were taken to police headquarters, an argument broke out between Nasirli and several police officers.

Hajiyev says Nasirli was severely beaten by police, including the deputy chief of the Baku central police department, Yashar Aliyev.

"He was beaten in the head so much that his eyelids were swollen shut. He couldn't see," Hajiyev said.

A second detainee, Tofiq Zeynalli, a member of the Popular Front party, says he was also beaten by Aliyev. Baku police officials deny the beatings took place.

Nasirli's lawyer, Mensum Bayramov, was also detained after arriving at the police station to provide legal assistance to the detainees. Human rights ombudsman Elmira Suleymanova has appealed to prosecutors to thoroughly investigate the case and punish those responsible for any beatings.

It is not clear whether Nasirli, an activist with no party affiliation, was targeted because of his past run-in over Eurovision. A court has ordered him and the other detainees to spend 15 days behind bars.

-- Daisy Sindelar

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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