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AI Index: EUR 46/007/2005
UA 72/05 Possible Prisoners of Conscience/ Legal concern
23 March 2005
RUSSIAN Yuri Samodurov (m), Director of the Andrei Sakharov Museum and Public Centre
FEDERATION Ludmila Vasilovskaia (f), curator of the Andrei Sakharov Museum and Public Centre
Anna Mikhalchuk (f), artist
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.
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, entitled "Caution! Religion", opened at the museum on 14 January 2003. Artists participating in the exhibition used religious symbols in their work. One controversial exhibit was an image of an advertisement portraying the face of Jesus Christ and the wording in English 'Coca Cola. This is my blood.' A press release issued by the Andrei Sakharov Museum and Public Centre stated that 'the name of the exhibition gives a clear sense of the dual nature of its scheme: the exhibition is both a call to a careful, delicate and respectful attitude towards religion, belief and believers, and also a warning sign… when it comes to religious fundamentalism… and a union of religion with state obscurantism".
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 (www.sakharov-center.ru) 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.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible, in Russian or your own language:
- expressing 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;
- calling on the authorities to ensure that Anna Mikhalchuk, Yuri Samodurov and Ludmila Vasilovskaia are not imprisoned for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression;
- stating that Amnesty International would consider them to be prisoners of conscience if they receive prison sentences and would call for their immediate release;
- calling on the Russian authorities to respect the right to freedom of expression of everyone in the Russian Federation.
President of the Russian Federation
Vladimir Vladimirovich PUTIN
g. Moskva, Kreml
Fax: + 7 095 206 85 10 / 206 51 73 / 230 24 08
Salutation: Dear President Putin
Procurator General of the Russian Federation
General Procuracy of the Russian Federation
Ul. B. Dimitrovka 15a
103793 Moscow K-31
Fax: + 7 095 292 8848 / 921 4186 (if someone answers say "fax please")
Salutation: Dear Procurator General
Olga Aleksandrovna EGOROVA
Moscow City Court
ul. Bogorodskii val, 8
107076 g. Moskva
Andrei Sakharov Museum and Public Centre, Moscow, Russian Federation
Fax: + 7 095 917 2653
and to diplomatic representatives of the Russian Federation accredited to your country.
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY.