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I am copying below the text of a letter to Judge Proschenko at the Taganskaya Court from the Committee of Concerned Scientists. I am also faxing a copy of the original to the following number: (7-095) 917-26-53. If this number is not correct, please let me know. I will also be sending copies to Ambassador Yuri V. Ushakov and Ambassador Alexander Vershbow.
Text of letter follows:
Judge Vladimir Proschenko
March 24, 2005
Dear Judge Proschenko:
We are an independent organization made up of scientists, engineers, health professionals and scholars committed to the protecting the human rights and academic freedom of our colleagues around the world. We are writing for a second time about the case of Yuri Samodurov, the director of the Andrei Sakharov Public Center and Museum, and Ludmila Vasilovskaya and Anna Mikhalchuk, who are facing the possibility of conviction and sentencing on March 28th for violating Article 282 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (inciting hostility toward religious believers and humiliating them).
It appears evident to us that the exhibition at the Sakharov Museum, “Caution! Religion,” was not aimed at humiliating or inciting anger towards believers. Rather, its goal was to present artistic work that articulated a variety of perspectives on religion. To be sure, those perspectives did not represent the views of many Russian citizens, and were considered offensive by many of them. Nevertheless, offensiveness is often a quality of art in all free societies, and is tolerated by those societies as part of their goal of protecting the freedom of expression.
We are deeply disturbed that pressures from the Duma and various religious groups appear to have resulted in the prosecution of Samodurov and his colleagues, and that this culture of pressure and prosecution now seems poised to send a distinguished museum director, as well as a curator and an artist, to prison. Should this happen, the troubling stain that has appeared on the face of Russian democracy as a result of this case will become indelible, and this trial will mark a significant about-face, we believe, in the efforts by Russian society to emerge from centuries of tyranny, first under the Tsars and then under the Soviets.
We hope the court will weigh the case using a scale that is calibrated to the needs of justice as understood in the context of a truly democratic and free society. Any finding other than innocence will betoken nothing less than a Russian tragedy.
Thank you for your consideration.
Joel L. Lebowitz Paul H. Plotz Walter Reich
co-chair co-chair co-chair
cc: Ambassador Yuri V. Ushakov
Ambassador Alexander Vershbow