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Dozens Of Cultural Figures Sign Petition For Russian Director

Russian theater and film director Kirill Serebrennikov gestures as he leaves court in Moscow on August 23.
Russian theater and film director Kirill Serebrennikov gestures as he leaves court in Moscow on August 23.

More than 30 cultural figures from different countries have signed a petition calling on Russian authorities to drop the criminal investigation into prominent theater and film director Kirill Serebrennikov.

German theater director Thomas Ostermeier and director and playwright Marius von Mayenburg were circulating a petition on behalf of Serebrennikov, who has been charged with fraud and was placed under house arrest last week.

Serebrennikov says he is innocent and Kremlin critics contend that the case is part of a clampdown on dissent ahead of the March 2018 presidential election.

The Germans urged their government to seek to ensure that Serebrennikov “doesn't become the victim of a politically motivated defamation of character and doesn't end up in prison."

The signatories of the petition included Australian actress Cate Blanchett, German actress Nina Hoss, and German film director Volker Schloendorff.

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 one of his projects.

The 47-year-old, who was detained in St. Petersburg on August 22, dismissed the charges as "incredibly absurd and impossible."

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

A few hundred supporters demonstrated outside the courtroom during the hearing and many Russian artists came to the director's defense.

A prominent director who has protested against President Vladimir Putin's government and staged controversial productions, Serebrennikov is the artistic director of the Gogol Center theater in Moscow and founded a dramatic collective called Seventh Studio.

He is known for taking aim at what Kremlin critics say are high-level lies and corruption and a turn toward hard-line conservatism in Putin's current presidential term.

Investigators claim he organized the embezzlement of at least 68 million rubles ($1.1 million) in state arts funding that was provided to Seventh Studio by the Culture Ministry between 2011-14 for a project called Platform.

Opposition politician Aleksei Navalny 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 win a fourth term.

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

With reporting by AP

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