MOSCOW -- Acclaimed Russian theater and film director Kirill Serebrennikov and his co-defendants have been found guilty and handed suspended prison sentences on embezzlement charges in a case that critics say is politically motivated and meant to send a chilling message to potential government critics.
The Meshchansky district court on June 26 gave Serebrennikov a suspended, three-year prison term and fined him 800,000 rubles ($11,500).
Serebrennikov was also given three years of probation and ordered to keep his permanent address throughout that time.
"The court believes that the defendants can be reformed without being isolated from society," Judge Olesya Mendeleyeva said when pronouncing the ruling.
Serebrennikov has been hailed as a daring and innovative force on Russia's modern art scene, potentially putting him at odds with cultural conservatives, and has protested government policies in the past.
At his trial, he suggested the security forces and a "culture of loyalty" within the Culture Ministry were behind his prosecution.
Anticipating a harsher sentence from authorities eager to further President Vladimir Putin's perceived crackdown on unorthodox culture, hundreds of Serebrennikov's supporters cheered and applauded after the pronouncement of the sentence, which lasted for several hours.
Serebrennikov's co-defendants, theater producers Yuri Itin and Aleksei Malobrodsky, were also found guilty of embezzlement and received three-year and two-year suspended sentences, respectively. Itin was also fined 200,000 rubles ($2,900) and Malobrodsky 300,000 rubles ($4,300)
The fourth defendant, a former employee of the Culture Ministry, Sofia Apfelbaum, was found guilty of negligence and fined 100,000 rubles but the fine was waived because of the statute of limitations.
The court also ordered Serebrennikov, Itin, and Malobrodsky to repay almost 129 million rubles (more than $1.86 million) that the court concluded they had embezzled.
Lawyers for Serebrennikov and Apfelbaum said they planned to appeal the sentence.
Malobrodsky told RFE/RL that he also planned to appeal.
Prominent Russian and international actors, writers, and directors have expressed their support for Serebrennikov and his colleagues. Many regard it as politically motivated.
Irina Prokhorova, a publisher of New Literary Monitor magazine, told Current Time that this trial, and other similar ones across Russia, were an attempt by the authorities "to revive Stalinism."
"It's a shame that this terrible tradition of a repressive system has not been eradicated and now is growing back in all spheres of our lives," Prokhorova said.
Director Yury Butusov called the trial "a scathing rebuke organized by the authorities to send a signal to the class of creative people."
"In that matter, Kirill [Serebrennikov] is a convenient example for them because he represents both theater and cinema, and modern arts. Unfortunately, many arts people [in Russia] got that message and chose to keep a low profile now.... The message is -- no freedom, no libertinism, everything must be like in the army," Butusov said.
He added that, since the collapse of the Soviet system, the authorities had not interfered in the activities of the arts sector, but Serebrennikov's trial showed that things are going to be like they used to be during the Soviet era.
Opposition politician and Moscow municipal lawmaker Ilya Yashin said that the case against Serebrennikov and his colleagues was "fully fabricated and the defendants are being tried illegally."
Prosecutor Mikhail Reznichenko said at the trial that it had been proven Serebrennikov and other defendants in the case had embezzled almost 129 million rubles (more than $1.86 million). He has asked the court to sentence the director to six years in prison and other defendants to between four and five years.
The 50-year-old Serebrennikov and the three other people were accused of embezzling state funds that were granted from 2011 to 2014 to Seventh Studio, a nonprofit organization established by Serebrennikov, for a project called Platforma.
Serebrennikov has taken part in anti-government protests and voiced concern about the growing influence of the Russian Orthodox Church.
His arrest in August 2017 drew international attention and prompted accusations that Russian authorities were targeting cultural figures who are at odds with President Vladimir Putin and his government.