16 July 2008
Russia urged to respect artists' rights to freedom of expression

Two men who organized a contemporary art exhibition in Moscow have been charged with inciting hatred or enmity and denigration of human dignity.

Yurii Samodurov and Andrei Yerofeev staged the Forbidden Art 2006 exhibition at the Sakharov Museum in Moscow in March 2007.

The exhibition showed a number of art objects (photos, paintings, collages and others) which had been previously refused inclusion in some exhibitions.

However, several of the pieces, including work by well-known Russian contemporary artists such as Ilya Kabakov, Aleksandr Kosolapov, Aleksandr Savko and Mikhail Roginskii, have already been shown in other exhibitions in the Russian Federation and at major exhibitions of contemporary art worldwide.

The objects date from the Soviet era right up to the 21st century. Several of them use religious motifs such as icons or paintings depicting religious scenes, others use non-normative language.

According to the findings of the Taganskii district prosecutor, both men organized an exhibition which “is clearly directed towards expressing in a demonstrative and visible way a degrading and insulting attitude towards the Christian religion in general and especially towards the Orthodox faith.” If found guilty both men may face imprisonment.

Yurii Samodurov, director of the Sakharov Museum, was charged on 15 May 2008. Andrei Yerofeev, then head of the department for contemporary art at the State Tretiakov Gallery in Moscow, was charged on 22 May. Both men are charged under Article 282.2 of the Russian Criminal Code (Inciting hatred or enmity, denigration of human dignity with the use of one’s official position).

The Taganskii district prosecutor’s office commissioned several expert opinions on the art objects. One expert on iconography found that “the negative impulses coming from the objects may provoke aggression, or at least lack of respect towards [the religious objects] used in the exhibition or against any other object used in religious cults”.

Yurii Samodurov had been previously found guilty of inciting hatred or enmity and sentenced to a conditional prison sentence in connection with another exhibition. Amnesty International considered him at that time a possible prisoner of conscience and campaigned for the protection of his right to freedom of expression.

Amnesty International considers that the art objects do not incite hatred.  While some viewers may be offended by what they see, this should not lead to a criminal prosecution of those who have organized the exhibition.

International human rights law does not permit, still less require, freedom of expression to be restricted or prohibited simply on the grounds that some people find it offensive.

Please join Amnesty International’s appeal to the Russian authorities to drop the charges against Yurii Samodurov and Andrei Yerofeev. 

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