Russian Theater Director’s House Arrest Is Extended

Posted January 16, 2018 5:38 p.m. EST

MOSCOW — A court on Tuesday extended the house arrest of Kirill S. Serebrennikov, the artistic director of the Gogol Center, whose case has raised alarms about repression of artistic freedom in Russia.

Serebrennikov is accused of embezzling government funds that had been allocated for one of his theatrical projects. The ruling means he will spend another three months under house arrest while awaiting trial.

Earlier this month, investigators reportedly elevated their accusations against Serebrennikov in a draft of an indictment, saying his theater company, Seventh Studio, had embezzled almost twice as much as they had initially suspected. He and his associates are now accused of stealing the ruble equivalent of $2.3 million.

The Ministry of Culture has been recognized as an injured party in the case and has asked to be awarded the same sum as compensation if Serebrennikov is convicted.

The case has set off alarms in the artistic community in Russia about the prospect of a return of censorship to the arts. Serebrennikov has staged plays featuring nude actors and touching on socially divisive issues of sexuality and politics.

Russian cultural figures have repeatedly raised the case with President Vladimir Putin in meetings, but he has declined to intervene. He has said that nobody is immune from legal prosecution in Russia and pointed out that the Bolshoi Theater recently staged “Nureyev,” a ballet by Serebrennikov about Rudolf Nureyev, a gay ballet dancer who defected from the Soviet Union.

“If this were a persecution, not a prosecution, his performance wouldn’t have been staged at the Bolshoi,” Putin said in December.

Speaking in court on Tuesday, Serebrennikov said that his accountant at Seventh Studio, Nina L. Maslyaeva, who has turned state’s witness in the case, had falsely accused him and four colleagues of theft.

In the testimony, published by a Russian-language news portal, Meduza, Serebrennikov suggested that the topics touched upon during pretrial interrogations in November and December were completely unrelated to the essence of the case. He recalled being questioned about a theater director’s duties and saying that the job involved “being a genius, inspiring the people and staging highly artistic performances” — after which the interrogation was over.