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Andrew Blane

The Taganskii District Court, Moscow
Federal Judge V.P. Proshchenko

Respected Judge Proshchenko,

I address you with an appeal concerning the severe and unjust sentences sought by prosecutor Kira Gudim against the defendants Yuri Samodurov, Ludmila Vasilovskaya, and Anna Mikhalchuk on charges of "inciting religious hatred" and offending the feelings of religious believers for their role in organizing the art exhibition "Caution! Religion". I write as a Christian believer, active in the Episcopal Church, and teacher of Russian history in America and a long time friend of Russia.

This case is deeply disturbing to me, and others I know in the human rights and Russia studies fields, for specific and serious reasons. The exhibition as I understand was open only for four days, before it was closed down, and was seen by only a few dozen visitors at most. What offense the exhibit may have caused could only have been indirect, not from what religious believers themselves saw but from what they learned from a press report, itself subjective. Even the six parishioners who vandalized the exhibit, and who went to the museum armed with cans of paint for this specific purpose, did so not because they had seen the exhibit with their own eyes and been offended by it, but strictly on grounds of hearsay. It is clear it was not the intent of the organizers of the art exhibit to offend the feelings of religious believers and to incite religious hatred. After their exhibit was unexpectedly vandalized, they closed it and publicly expressed their regret and apologies if the exhibit had unintentionally offended anyone's religious feelings. The contrast of legal treatment between those who vandalized the exhibit, they have been let off without sanction or penalty, and those who organized the exhibit, they have undergone an extensive trial and the prosecutor has now called for severe legal penalties, is discriminatory and incongruous. Most seriously, in conflicts between freedom for artistic creativity and freedom of religious belief from slander and incitement to religious hostility. it cannot be just and it is wholly inappropriate to seek and to apply criminal (as opposed to civil) sanctions I appeal to you as the Judge that the legal penalties called for by the prosecutor in this trial if granted and carried out would constitute a grave miscarriage of justice.

Also of concern to me, and to other friends of Russia I know, are the wider ramifications there can be from a miscarriage of justice in this Sakharov Museum art exhibition case at the Taganskii District Court. There would be a weakening in Russia of public confidence in the country's judicial system, which you, your Honor, and other arbitrators of law in Russia know better than we do outside. There is also the reaction abroad. Knowledge of the "Caution! Religion" trial in Moscow has this past year, judging from press reports, spread to different countries. Various people in these lands - artists, religious believers, human rights advocates, also political figures - simply will not be able to understand a criminal sentence for an art exhibit, all the more an art exhibit held in a small museum for four days that few people saw. Any verdict on the prosecutor's charges other than acquittal will sow deep doubts about the validity of the rule of law in Russia, the fairness of its judicial system, and the society that Russia is.
That result is not what your country's citizens want, nor what we abroad who call ourselves friends of Russia want.

I appeal to you, your Honor, that in this case you act within your power to preserve justice with an acquitall of the three defendants from all criminal charges.

Respectfully yours,

Andrew Blane
Professor of Russian History (emeritus)
City University of New York

44A Morton Street
New York, NY 10014

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Политика конфиденциальности

Региональная общественная организация «Общественная комиссия по сохранению наследия академика Сахарова» (Сахаровский центр) решением Минюста РФ от 25.12.2014 года №1990-р внесена в реестр организаций, выполняющих функцию иностранного агента. Это решение мы обжалуем в суде.