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Young Russian Cultural Figures Add Support For Embattled Theater Director

Russian theater and film director Kirill Serebrennikov (right), is escorted outside Moscow's Basmanny district court after a hearing on August 12.

More than 300 young Russian cultural figures have published an open letter of support for theater director Kirill Serebrennikov, who is under house arrest and facing embezzlement charges, and four other figures connected with the case.

In the letter published on August 30, the signatories asserted that the case is a "politically motivated" effort to silence Serebrennikov and a "dangerous symptom that says much about the government's attitude toward culture."

The young directors, artists, actors, and other cultural figures called on Russia's cultural community "to not be silent about the case ... and to continue calling for the release of the defendants until the authorities and the public listen."

The letter comes two days after some 30 international cultural figures, including Australian actress Cate Blanchett, German actress Nina Hoss, and German film director Volker Schloendorff, issued a petition calling on the authorities to drop the charges against Serebrennikov.

Many leading Russian cultural figures and intellectuals have also spoken out in support of the 47-year-old theater and film director. On August 30, actress Chulan Khamatova mentioned Serebrennikov's arrest at an event in Kazan, saying "I am very afraid and I have had this feeling now for several days."

Asked about the case on August 30, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the support shown by the cultural community for Serebrennikov is "understandable," but called for "patience" and warned against "idle talk about some politicization, some censorship."

Opposition politician Aleksei Navalny has said that Serebrennikov's prosecution was intended by the government to send a signal to Russia's cultural elites to toe the line ahead of the March 2018 presidential election, in which Putin is expected to seek and be awarded a fourth term.

Critics of the charges against Serebrennikov also include Putin's former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin and Vladimir Solovyov, a prominent TV host who is generally loyal to the Kremlin.

On August 23, a Moscow court placed Serebrennikov under house arrest pending further investigation and trial into charges that he embezzled government funds allocated for a project he is accused of failing to stage.

Serebrennikov, who was detained in St. Petersburg on August 22, dismissed the charges as "incredibly absurd and impossible." He has submitted posters, reviews, and other evidence that the production was indeed staged.

He could be sentenced to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Serebrennikov has participated in antigovernment protests and voiced concern about the increasing influence of the Russian Orthodox Church in cultural matters.

He participated in the Strategy-31 protests, in which demonstrations were periodically held against restrictions on the right to protest, which is protected by Article 31 of the Russian Constitution.

He also demonstrated against Russia's actions during the 2008 war with neighboring Georgia. He signed statements in defense of the performance-art collective Pussy Riot, members of which were arrested in 2012 for an unsanctioned performance in a cathedral.

Serebrennikov has spoken out against a Russian ban on the adoption of Russian orphans by U.S. citizens and against the treatment of Russia's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.

With reporting by Interfax