Drop Charges against Russian Art Curators


In Moscow, Yury Samodurov, a human rights activist, and Andrey Erofeev, a museum curator, are facing criminal prosecution for organizing an exhibition entitled "Forbidden Art 2006" at the Andrei Sakharov Museum. In June 2007, an ultranationalist religious organization, Narodnyj Sobor, submitted a formal complaint about the exhibition to the public prosecutor’s office, which brought charges against Samodurov and Erofeev for inciting religious and ethnic hatred under article 282 of the Penal Code. The two men could be sentenced to up to five years imprisonment. The Tagansky District Court in Moscow is scheduled to resume hearing the case behind closed doors on June 5, 2009.
Human Rights First has documented a disturbing pattern of threats and assaults against human rights activists in Russia over the past few years. The Russian authorities have also increased bureaucratic and legal harassment of human rights organizations, launching investigations and prosecutions, disrupting public events, and carrying out raids and searches on dubious grounds. Several human rights defenders and supporters of opposition groups in Russia have faced criminal charges for expressing dissenting opinions or criticizing government authorities.
The charges brought against Samodurov and Erofeev represent the latest attempt to curtail freedom of expression in Russia. Antiextremist legislation-and in particular Article 282 dealing with incitement to hatred-has been misused to target human rights activists and other non-violent activists who are critical of the government. Take action now to demand that the charges against Yury Samodurov and Andrey Erofeev are dropped and the case closed.
Your Excellencies:
I am writing to express my grave concern about the court proceedings against Yury Samodurov, the Director of the Sakharov Museum in Moscow, and Andrey Erofeev, a former curator at the State Tretyakov Gallery, who are facing unfounded charges of inciting hatred for the organization of a "Forbidden Art" exhibit in 2006.
It is also worrying that the presiding judge opted in favor of a closed hearing of this case, jeopardizing transparency and potentially independence. The proceedings are scheduled to resume on June 5, 2009.
On May 13, 2008, Samodurov and Andrey Erofeev, recently dismissed from his position as a curator at the State Tretyakov Gallery, were charged with violating Article 282(2)(b) of the Russian Criminal Code (incitement to national and religious hatred) for the 2006 Forbidden Art exhibition. The works displayed had been refused by other museums, and the purpose of the exhibition was thus to study, "the nature and tendencies of institutional censorship in the area of culture."
The case against the organizers of the exhibition began in June 2007, and stemmed from the public indignation of the Orthodox Community, who had deemed the works as anti-Christian, anti-Orthodox, and anti-Russian. In 2005, in a similar case that was criticized by domestic and international human rights groups, Samodurov was found guilty of incitement to hate for organizing "Caution, religion!," an exhibition which included paintings and other art examining-and parodying-the intersection of religion with commercial interests, politics, and popular culture.
I am concerned that, in prosecuting this case, the Russian authorities are violating their commitments and their obligations in domestic and international law to respect the right to freedom of expression. Rather than investigating and prosecuting perpetrators of violent hate crimes, prosecutors have too often misused antiextremism legislation to silence human rights defenders and government critics. I call on the prosecutor’s office to drop the charges against Samodurov and Erofeev and close the case on the grounds that no crime has been committed.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. I will continue to closely monitor this situation.
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