Saturday, June 19

Trial centers on blasphemy in Moscow art exhibit

I referred to this controversy several weeks ago in "art attacked - physically." This is an update from the International Herald Tribune, June 16, 2004

MOSCOW: A prominent Russian human rights advocate and two other defendants went on trial Tuesday, accused of organizing a blasphemous exhibit. Their lawyers said the charges were so vague it was impossible to answer them. Yuri Samodurov, who manages Moscow's Andrei Sakharov Museum, faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to 500,000 rubles, or about $17,000, if found guilty of inciting religious hatred. He and the two others - Lyudmila Vasilovskaya, who works at the museum, and Anna Mikhalchuk, an artist - organized an exhibit in January 2003 called Caution, Religion.

Defense lawyers told the Taganka district court that the accusations failed to pinpoint which art works incited religious hatred and against whom and why. The defense also said that at the time of the exhibit, inciting religious hatred was not yet stipulated in law. All three defendants pleaded not guilty. Samodurov said the exhibit had no ill intent and its aim was twofold: advocating respect toward religion and cautioning against religious fanaticism. The exhibited works by about 40 artists...

Four days after its opening, the exhibit was vandalized. Six suspects were detained and charged with hooliganism, but after a publicity campaign conducted by a Russian Orthodox priest, the charges were dropped. 'A number of the works were outright explicit,' Vladimir Sergeyev, one of the people accused of vandalizing the exhibit, said outside the courthouse. 'They were playing with holy icons and to me, as a religious person, they insulted not even just my father but the Holy Father.' Russia's lower house of Parliament petitioned the prosecutor-general's office 'to take the necessary measures' against the exhibit organizers.

The Sakharov Museum claimed the trial was punishment for its long campaign against the war in Chechnya, which Russian troops have fought for most of the past decade. The museum was founded to promote democracy and human rights.