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Dear President Putin
Yuri Samodurov (m), Director of the Andrei Sakharov Museum and Public Centre
Ludmila Vasilovskaia (f), curator of the Andrei Sakharov Museum and Public Centre
Anna Mikhalchuk (f), artist
I would like to express my serious concern that Anna Mikhalchuk, Yuri Samodurov and Ludmila Vasilovskaia are being prosecuted under criminal law for their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, in violation of international standards and the Russian constitution.
Yuri Samodurov, Ludmila Vasilovskaia and Anna Mikhalchuk may be imprisoned for their role in organizing an art exhibition that used religious symbols, at the Andrei Sakharov Museum and Public Centre in Moscow in January 2003. If imprisoned, Amnesty International would consider them to be prisoners of conscience, detained solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression and in such circumstances, Amnesty International would call for their immediate release.
The three were charged with "carrying out actions aimed at inciting enmity, and humiliating the dignity of a group of people due to their nationality and their religious affiliation, carried out in public" under Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code. The Taganskaia Inter-district Court in Moscow is due to announce its verdict on the case on 28 March. The prosecutor in the case has demanded that Yuri Samodurov, Director of the Andrei Sakharov Museum and Public Centre, and Ludmila Vasilovskaia, the museum's curator, be imprisoned for three years and two years respectively. The prosecutor has also called for a two-year sentence for Anna Mikhalchuk, an artist who participated in the organizing of the exhibition, but for her to be released from the obligation of carrying out the sentence. The prosecutor has also demanded that Yuri Samodurov and Ludmila Vasilovskaia be deprived of the right to occupy similar positions in commercial or non-commercial organizations and that all the works of art in the exhibition be destroyed.
The exhibition was closed four days after its opening when a group of people from the Nicholas-Mirlikiskii-in-Pizhi Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow defaced and destroyed many of the exhibits. The prosecution against the alleged vandals was closed without a court considering the substance of the case. On 3 February 2003 the Russian State parliament, the Duma, called for the Procurator General to "take the necessary measures" against the organizers of the exhibition, reportedly following lobbying by officials of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Procurator General opened an investigation into the exhibition and at the end of December 2003 charged Yuri Samodurov, Ludmila Vasilovskaia and Anna Mikhalchuk as outlined above. Two others, who are Armenian citizens, fled Moscow before charges were brought against them.
While some people may have found the "Caution! Religion" exhibition offensive, Amnesty International does not believe that any of the exhibits portrayed on the Andrei Sakharov Museum and Public Centre's website amounted to an incitement to violence. Moreover, the use in this case of Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code - which is in the section of the criminal code listing crimes against the state - is wholly disproportionate.
I respectfully request that the Russian authorities respect the right to freedom of expression of everyone in the Russian Federation.
9 Scott Road
Sheffield S4 7BE
24 March 2005