Dozens of French cultural figures have gathered in Paris to call for the release of acclaimed film director Kirill Serebrennikov, who is under house arrest in Russia and faces embezzlement charges.
More than 40 performers and directors posed for the photographer Olivier Ciappa on September 10 at Paris’s Chaillot national theater, holing a placard reading "We are here. Kirill Serebrennikov. Freedom."
The event was aimed at alerting public opinion about Serebrennikov’s fate and "expressing our protest so that freedom of expression is not gagged, said French stage director David Bobee, according to French newspaper Le Monde.
Other members of the support group include director Olivier Py, choreographer Didier Deschamps, and former Culture Minister Jack Lang.
"Russian artists, like all artists in the world, have the right to engage politically, aesthetically, ethically, in their works without risking imprisonment," the group said in an online petition. "The accusations of embezzlement against artists are a classic [tool] of dictatorships that want to muzzle the arts."
Serebrennikov was detained on August 22 and could be sentenced to 10 years in prison if tried and convicted on fraud charges that he has dismissed as unfounded and absurd.
Investigators accuse him of embezzling at least 68 million rubles ($1.1 million) in state arts funding.
On September 4, a Moscow court rejected Serebrennikov's bid for release on bail, but ruled that he will be allowed to leave his apartment to take a walk daily from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Dozens of prominent Russian artists submitted character-witness testaments to the court in support of Serebrennikov.
Serebrennikov, 47, is artistic director of the Gogol Center theater in Moscow and founded a dramatic collective called Seventh Studio.
He has participated in antigovernment protests and voiced concern about the increasing influence of the Russian Orthodox Church in cultural matters.
Kremlin critics say his prosecution is part of a crackdown on dissent ahead of a March 2018 election in which President Vladimir Putin is widely expected to seek and secure a new term.
A petition set up by German theater director Thomas Ostermeier and director and playwright Marius von Mayenburg is calling on Russian authorities to drop the criminal investigation into Serebrennikov.
It has been signed by more than 30 cultural figures from different countries, including Australian actress Cate Blanchett, German actress Nina Hoss, and German film director Volker Schloendorff.
With reporting by Le Monde