Film director Kirill Serebrennikov and Russian theatre was placed under house arrest after being charged with fraud in a case that has sent shockwaves through the arts community.
The director had already denounced the charges against him as “absurd” after researchers arrested him in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday and drove him into the Investigative Committee offices in Moscow. He was held in jail ahead of their hearing.
Hundreds of people assembled to encourage Serebrennikov, 47, who heads the Gogol Centre theatre, and it has staged works at the legendary Bolshoi.
Judge Yelena Lenskaya ruled to confine the director to home arrest before October 19, an AFP correspondent reported from the courtroom as people cried “Shame!” And whistled in demonstration.
“He is accused of a serious crime,” an agent of the Investigative Committee stated in court earlier, arguing Serebrennikov might flee or put stress on case witnesses. “He can hide out of the investigation. He has real estate overseas.”
The Investigative Committee, which probes serious offenses, accuses Serebrennikov of defrauding the state of at least 68 million rubles ($1.15 million, 977,000 euros) from arts funding from 2011 to 2014 on a side project called Platform.
Reputation in a courtroom cage clad in a denim jacket and baseball cap, Serebrennikov stated he was confused by the charges as he’d “spent all of the money given by the government on the job”. He requested to be freed to continue working with his film.
“I’m not going to run out of the investigation, I’m an innocent individual, an honest individual,” he explained.
If convicted, he could be jailed for up to ten decades.
The situation has ignited outrage and dread about artistic freedoms in Russia, with some predicting it a demo of force against culture of the presidential elections of the next year. President Vladimir Putin is expected to run for office.
Serebrennikov’s detention “in a mostly absurd instance… is a signal to the inventive portion of society from the government,” business daily Vedomosti said in an editorial.