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Russian theater director Evgeniya Berkovich and playwright Svetlana Petriychuk sentenced to 6 years in prison for “justifying terrorism”

Russia’s Second Western District Military Court sentenced theater director Evgeniya Berkovich and playwright Svetlana Petriychuk to 6 years in prison earlier today on charges of “public justification of terrorism” in the stage production “Finist, The Brave Falcon” (“Finist Yasny Sokol”), according to a report by the independent media outlet Mediazona citing its own correspondent, who was present in the courtroom.

“Finist, The Brave Falcon” was staged by Berkovich's independent theatre project “Daughters of SOSO” («Дочери СОСО») based on Petriychuk's eponymous play. The 6-year sentence matched the prison term previously requested by state prosecutors. The trial was held behind closed doors, while members of the public and journalists — without cameras — were allowed into the hall only for the announcement of the verdict.

Crowds gather outside the Second Western District Military Court in support of Berkovich and Petriychuk
Crowds gather outside the Second Western District Military Court in support of Berkovich and Petriychuk
Svetlana Vidanova / Novaya Gazeta

Evgeniya Berkovich and Svetlana Petriichuk were arrested in May 2023 and spent the entire time before the verdict in prison. Berkovich's grandmother, Nina Katerli, passed away while her granddaughter was incarcerated. Berkovich repeatedly asked to be released under house arrest, as she has two adopted daughters with special health needs who require their mother's presence. The court refused on the pretext that the defendants might abscond or put pressure on witnesses.

Video: Supporters applaud Berkovich and Petriychuk as they are driven away in a police van after being sentenced to 6 years in prison. Source: Alexandra Astakhova / Mediazona

The play “Finist Yasny Sokol” was first performed in 2020 and won Russia’s most prestigious theater award, the Golden Mask, in two categories in 2022: Best Playwright (Petriychuk) and Best Costume Design.

The production tells the story of Russian women who decided to marry Islamists and travel to Syria, only to be recruited by militants. It was reported to law enforcement by members of the so-called “National Liberation Movement” («Национальное освободительное движение», НОД). They claimed that the play glorifies Islam and ISIS, “causes enmity” on religious grounds, insults Orthodox Christianity and is “an instrument of information warfare against Russia's security.”

Many prominent Russian cultural figures, including actors Ksenia Rappoport and Veniamin Smekhov, spoke in defense of the play during the trial. Smekhov, in particular, argued that the play does not justify terrorism, but on the contrary warns of its dangers, does not present a positive image of ISIS, and is intended for an experienced viewer who can understand the metaphor.

The National Liberation Movement, or NOD, is a pro-Putin nationalist political movement. Founded in 2011 by “ultra-patriotic” State Duma deputy Nikolay Fyodorov, the group aims to fight Russia's “enemies from within.” NOD has aggressively protested against Russia’s perceived enemies: the U.S. Embassy, opposition politicians, artists criticizing state censorship, and even foreign audit firms working in Russia.

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