Russian film and theatre director Kirill Serebrennikov has been handed a suspended sentence after being found guilty of criminal fraud by a Moscow court.
Prosecutors had called for a six-year prison sentence for the director, despite the case being widely considered as politically motivated. Serebrennikov’s co-defendants, Alexei Malobrodsky and Yuri Itin, were also given suspended sentences, while co-defendant Sofia Apfelbaum saw her charges downgraded to negligence.
Police allege that the group stole more than 129 million roubles ($1.87 million) of government arts funding by accepting money for a show that never went ahead. Serebrennikov has called the charges “absurd”.
Ahead of the trial, hundreds of supporters, including Russian rapper Oxxxymiron, stood outside Moscow’s Meshchansky district court in support of the defendants.
A number of other organisations, including Human Rights Watch and many international film festivals, have also called for the charges to be dropped. They said that the charges were “a thinly veiled way to retaliate against Serebrennikov for his political criticism and to send a chilling message to other artists.”
The charges were first brought to Serebrennikov and his co-defendants in August 2017, following widespread anti-government protests across Russia. They spent a year and a half under house arrest, and were released on bail in April 2019 until a Moscow court ordered a re-trial of the case in October.
This article has been edited to reflect current updates in the trial.