02 July 2010
Acquit Russian exhibition organizers

Yurii Samodurov and Andrei Yerofeev have been convicted of "inciting hatred or enmity" and "denigration of human dignity" and fined for organizing a contemporary art exhibition at the Sakharov Museum in Moscow in 2007.

The court found that Yuri Samodurov, then Director of the Sakharov Museum and Andrei Yerofeev, then Head of the Department for Contemporary Art at the State Tretiakov Gallery, had arranged the exhibition in such a way that it denigrates Christianity, and especially the Russian Orthodox faith, and incited hatred against Orthodox and other Christians.

The exhibition Forbidden Art 2006 displayed a number of works of art, including by some of Russia’s most renowned contemporary artists, such as Ilya Kabakov, Alexander Kosolapov, the group “Blue Noses”, Aleksandr Savko and Mikhail Roginskii. All of them had been turned down at various exhibitions during 2006, though some of these works had previously been displayed at other exhibitions of contemporary art in Russia and around the world.

Among the works of art presented at the exhibition was, for example, a photomontage of a photograph of an icon frame with a photo of caviar inside the icon. Other examples included reproductions of religious paintings with an inserted figure of Mickey Mouse. There were also works which contained erotic elements, or used non-normative language.

The exhibits were concealed behind a false wall and could only be seen through small holes. The organizers decided against putting images of the exhibits on the museum’s website, and no photography was allowed. Attendance was also expressly not recommended for persons younger than 16.

According to the organizers, it was planned to stage a series of Forbidden Art exhibitions over several years with the aim of monitoring and discussing the trends of institutional censorship in culture.

The charges against Yurii Samodurov and Andrei Yerofeev were brought in May 2008 on the grounds incompatible with the right to freedom of expression enshrined in international law as well as Russian legislation. Amnesty International believes that the exhibition Forbidden Art 2006 does not incite hatred and that the organizers of the exhibition should not have been prosecuted.

The trial of the two men started in Taganskii District Court in Moscow in June 2009. Trial observers stressed that during the trial, only one witness for the prosecution stated that he had, in his own words, "glanced" at the exhibition. The others told the court that none of them had visited it. Nevertheless, they claimed that the exhibition incited hatred.

The judgement claimed that visitors at the exhibition with “Russian traditional values”, or Orthodox Christians, experienced “a most serious psycho-traumatic impact of excessive force, carrying a direct threat to their personal integrity”. The judgement also claimed the exhibition “caused unbearable moral suffering and stress, a feeling of humiliation of their human dignity” among a large group of people.

Andrei Yerofeev and Yuri Samodurov are to appeal the verdict. Join Amnesty International in calling for them to be acquitted.

Image: Andrei Yerofeev and Yuri Samodurov. Copyright: Amnesty International

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Stop prosecution of Russian exhibition organizers

Dear President Medvedev,

I am writing to you to express my deep concern regarding the prosecution of Yurii Samodurov, the former Director of the Andrei Sakharov Museum and Public Centre, and Andrei Yerofeev, the former Head of the Department for Contemporary Art at the State Tretiakov Gallery.

The two men have been found guilty of "inciting hatred or enmity" and "denigration of human dignity" for organizing a contemporary art exhibition at the Sakharov Museum in March 2007 and have been ordered to pay a fine.

I am concerned that in putting them on trial for organizing an art exhibition, their right to freedom of expression, as enshrined in international law and the Russian Constitution, has been compromised. Art is a form of communication and of expressing views. It can provoke or please and often has more than one meaning. Freedom of art is an integral part of freedom of expression, limitations to which are set forth in international law. Neither Russian, nor international human rights law permit freedom of expression to be restricted or prohibited simply on the grounds that some people find the views expressed offensive or disagreeable.

I believe that Andrei Yerofeev and Yurii Samodurov should not be prosecuted and I urge you to guarantee that their right to freedom of expression is respected and the criminal case against them is closed.

Yours sincerely,

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