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Hundreds protest detention of award-winning Russian director in Moscow

Posted August 23

A prominent Russian theater and film director has been placed under house arrest, one day after he was charged with embezzlement in a case his supporters see as politically motivated.

Hundreds of people gathered Wednesday outside a courthouse in central Moscow to protest Kirill Serebrennikov's detention through October 19, and the charges against him, live video streams from the courtroom and posted online by liberal and state-friendly news outlets show.

The judge forbade Serebrennikov from using the Internet or the phone to communicate with anyone other than his family during his detention ahead of a criminal trial.

The award-winning director was arrested Tuesday in St. Petersburg and charged with embezzlement and fraud, Interfax news agency reported, citing Russia's investigative committee.

The panel, which investigates high-profile crimes, said Serebrennikov is accused of embezzling more than $1.2 million in government money allocated for a theatrical project between 2011 and 2014. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years behind bars.

Serebrennikov's ''guilt in committing large-scale fraud is confirmed by the testimonies of witnesses, the results of investigative activity, financial documents obtained during the investigation and other evidence," investigative committee spokeswoman Svetlana Petrenko said Tuesday.

Serebrennikov, 47, has denied wrongdoing and called the charges "absurd."

Cultural community rallies

Long considered one of Russia's most gifted talents, Serebrennikov, the creative director of the avant-garde theater Gogol Center in Moscow, has been an outspoken supporter of artistic freedom in Russia. Reaction to his detention among the capital's cultural community has been swift and rife with outrage.

Supporters outside the courthouse Wednesday shouted, ''Freedom!'' and chanted Serebrennikov's name, the Russian news outlets' video streams show.

Some of Russia's most famous directors and artists, including some considered to be close to the government, wrote to the court or appeared in person Wednesday to vouch for Serebrennikov's character and to urge his release, social media posts indicated.

By Wednesday afternoon, almost 15,000 people had signed an online petition calling for the charges to be dropped. The petition is addressed to the investigative body and to Russian President Vladimir Putin.


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