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Russian theater and film director Kirill Serebrennikov arrives at a court hearing in Moscow on March 28.

A Moscow court has ordered the release of theater director Kirill Serebrennikov and two associates from house arrest.

The three are on trial in an embezzlement case they claim is politically motivated.

In an April 8 ruling, the Moscow City Court also ordered Serebrennikov, producer Yury Itin, and former Culture Ministry employee Sofia Apfelbaum not to leave Moscow until the end of their trial.

A fourth defendant in the high-profile case, producer Aleksei Malobrodsky, has already been barred from leaving Moscow.

In a short statement for Current Time, Serebrennikov said he did not know what prompted the court to order his release. Current Time is a Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.

Theatergoers Greet Russian Director After Release From House Arrest
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Serebrennikov's August 2017 arrest drew international attention and prompted accusations that Russian authorities were targeting cultural figures who are at odds with President Vladimir Putin's government.

The acclaimed 49-year-old director was initially charged with organizing the embezzlement of 68 million rubles (more than $1 million) in state funds granted from 2011 to 2014 to Seventh Studio, a nonprofit organization that Serebrennikov established.

In January 2018, prosecutors raised the amount Serebrennikov and his three co-defendants are accused of embezzling to 133 million rubles ($2 million).

All four defendants have pleaded not guilty and Serebrennikov has described the trial, which began in October 2018, as "absurd."

A fifth person charged in the case, accountant Nina Maslyayeva, pleaded guilty and has provided testimony used as evidence against the defendants. She is to be tried separately.

Serebrennikov's supporters say the case was part of a crackdown on the arts community ahead of the March 2018 presidential election in which Putin, a longtime Soviet KGB officer who was first elected president in 2000, won a fourth term.

Serebrennikov had previously taken part in antigovernment protests and voiced concerns about the increasing influence in Russia of the Russian Orthodox Church, whose ties with the state have increased under Putin.

Despite being under house arrest, the director has staged an opera that premiered in March in Hamburg, Germany.

With reporting by TASS, Interfax, and RIA Novosti
Former Khabarovsk Governor Viktor Ishayev attends a court hearing in Moscow on March 28.

A Moscow City Court on April 8 rejected an appeal in the case of Viktor Ishayev, the former governor of Russia's Khabarovsk region who faces embezzlement charges.

Ishayev was calling for the reversal of a March 28 ruling by the Basmanny District Court that placed him under house arrest.

Ishayev’s lawyers had called for Ishayev to be released on 15-million-ruble bail, or about $230,000.

Russia's Investigative Committee on March 28 accused Ishayev and several other unnamed people of embezzling money via fraudulent activities from the state-oil company Rosneft.

The Khabarovsk regional governor's spokeswoman, Nadezhda Tomchenko, told reporters that the offices of the regional administration in the city of Khabarovsk had been searched that same day by officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB).

Ishayev, a member of the ruling United Russia party, was a vice president at Rosneft from 2013 to 2018.

He governed the Far Eastern Khabarovsk region from 1991 to 2009.

In April 2009, he was appointed the presidential envoy to the Far Eastern Federal Territory and served as Russia's minister for the development of the Far East in 2012 and 2013.

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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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