Forbidden Art

Yuri Samodurov prosecuted for hosting controversial art exhibition

The Russian authorities should stop the criminal prosecution of Yuri Samodurov for hosting a controversial art exhibition, Human Rights Watch said today.

Samodurov is director of the Andrei Sakharov Museum and Human Rights Center, the venue of “Forbidden Art-2006,” an exhibit that opened in March 2007 and showed provocative artwork that had been banned from several art galleries in Russia.

Following an investigation opened in June, Samodurov was charged yesterday with “inciting religious hatred” for providing a venue for the show. According to the prosecutor’s office, the exhibited works contain images that are denigrating and offensive to practitioners of Christianity.


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  1. Russia: Charges brought against museum director for defending freedom of expression

    Front Line is deeply concerned following reports that charges of extremism have been brought against Yuri Samodurov, director of the Sakharov Centre in Moscow. The Sakharov Centre is an art museum which is also used for human rights events such as press conferences and seminars, and has extensive literature on human rights in its library.

    On 13 May 2008, Samodurov was charged with inciting religious hatred for organising the “Forbidden Art – 2006” exhibition which took place in March 2007 in the Sakharov Centre. He is now awaiting sentencing but could face up to two-years imprisonment.

    According to Samodurov, the aim of the exhibition was to promote the monitoring of human rights and the discussion of censorship applied to visual arts in Russia. However, the court ruled that it contained artwork which was considered offensive towards the Russian Orthodox Church. The authorities have not commented on the charges brought against Samodurov.

    In the past, Samodurov has spoken out to defend freedom of expression. In January 2003, the Sakharov Centre was raided because of the “Caution, Religion!” exhibition. Artwork was deliberately damaged and Samodurov was convicted for inciting racial hatred.

    Samodurov describes the Sakharov Centre not only as a museum but as a research centre and a human rights organisation. Front Line believes that Yuri Samodurov has been targeted as a result of his legitimate work in the defence of human rights, in particular his work in defence of freedom of artistic expression.

  2. The director of the Moscow Bureau of Human Rights, Alexander Brod, does not regard the criminal charges brought against the director of the Sakharov Centre, Yuri Samodurov, as political. Rather, the charges are the result of the provocative nature of the exhibition, Brod said.

    “This is the second time a criminal case has been brought against the director of the Sakharov Centre for a similar exhibition. In 2004, the Centre was accused of “inciting racial or religious hatred”, following an exhibition called “Careful, religion!” in January 2003,” Brod said.

    “Nevertheless, the management of the Sakharov Centre organised another exhibition, with a similar reaction. The management should have foreseen the indignant reaction of believers. Instead, they knowingly exacerbated the situation, which we regard as inadmissible and provocative,” Brod concluded.

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