Two Russian art curators were found guilty, after a 14 month
trial, of violating Russia's tough hate-speech law. Some say the
verdict protects religious values, but others decry it as
A Moscow court' found two former museum curators guilty of
"inciting hatred" against Christians. But some Russian analysts say
the verdict will cast a chill over artistic freedom in Russia and
encourage extreme nationalists to target a wider range of liberal
At issue was a 2007 exhibition at the Sakharov Museum that
featured "images which are derogatory and insulting to Christianity
and religious people," which is a serious crime under Russian law.
Entitled "Forbidden Art," it aimed to challenge censorship and
included several controversial images of Jesus - including one which
replaced his head with that of Mickey Mouse, and another with the
Soviet-era Order of Lenin medal.
Moscow's Tagansky court ruled that the former director of the
Andrei Sakharov Museum, Yury Samodurov, and the ex-head of the
Tretyakov Gallery's modern art section, Andrei Yarofeyev, "committed
actions aimed at inciting hatred." The 14-month trial included more
than 134 witnesses for the prosecution, most of whom admitted they
had never viewed the art works in question.
The pair could have faced jail terms of up to five years, but
were instead handed fines. Mr. Samodurov must pay 200,000 roubles
(about $6,500), while Mr. Yerofeyev was fined 150,000 roubles (about
$5,000), RIA Novosti reported.
Censorship by the state, or the people?
The defendants and their supporters say that the law under which
they were convicted, which is a tougher and broader version of hate-
speech laws that are common in Western countries, is being abused by
the very extremist forces whose activities should be scrutinized and
curbed under the law.
At a press conference last week, Yerofeyev accused a shadowy
religious-nationalist group, Narodny Sobor, of instigating the
original complaint against the 2007 art show.
"We have the classic situation of a fascist party that is
attacking contemporary culture," Yerofeyev told journalists.
"Through destruction it is trying to get attention."
Representatives of Narodny Sobor - a small group that is not
exactly a household name in Russia - made themselves easily
available for comment following Monday's verdict.
"Glory to the court," says Alexander Lapin, head of the group's
Moscow organization. "This is not about different tastes, but about
the incitement of religious hatred... Yes, we filed the complaint
against that exhibition, and we were supported by other religious
confessions [apart from the Orthodox Church], including Muslims and
Jews. In a country where 70 percent of the population are religious,
no one can be allowed to wipe their feet on one of the principal
"This may be informal censorship, not from the state but from
society," he adds. "That's what civil society is for."
This is not the first time the Sakharov Museum has faced legal
troubles over an art exhibit. …