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Violation of freedom of speech and expression in Russia: current case Oleg Mavromati

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Raise a voice in support of freedom of speech and expression! Insist on dropping charges against artists and art-show organisers in Russia.

On September 8th, 2010 Russian artist Oleg Mavromati, currently living in Bulgaria and the US, was refused renewal of his Russian passport by the Consulate of the Russian Federation in Sofia, on the grounds that Mavromati has been avoiding trial in the Russian Federation for the performance he made in 2000. If he returns to Russia he will be put on trial and faces 3-5 years of prison.

Mavromati was prosecuted for “Do Not Believe Your Eyes” under article 282 of the Criminal Code of Russian Federation with “inciting religious hatred and offending the feelings of religious believers.” A legal complaint from the chairman of the local Orthodox Church community “St. Nikola” against Mavromati was disregarded by the Moscow City court as there was no evidence of crime. Through coercive measures and political connections the same complaint was sent to the General Attorney's office. Then Mavromati’s home was searched and all his video and film materials were confiscated.

“Do Not Believe Your Eyes” was not meant to offend the religious feelings of anyone, or the Orthodox faith in particular. It was also not meant to mock the Christian crucifixion or to represent any religious symbol, but rather to represent an archetype of pain. The performance was a scene of a film directed by Mavromati and called “Oil on Canvas.” Mavromati played the main role, for which he performed the crucifixion. The story was based on the biography of the young Russian painter Oleg Golosiy, who was tragically killed by another artist because of envy. Mavromati was playing the role of the artist who killed Golosiy. The character repented and in order to prove his sincerity he changed the traditional artistic medium he used (oil on canvas) with direct action and physical expression. As a true evidence of his repent the character decided to crucify himself by that representing his personal guilt.

Now there is a new urgent situation:Mavromati was just notified by the Russian Consulate in Sofia that they will not renew his passport. According to the Russian Consulate the passport renewal was refused because Mavromati has been avoiding trial in the Russian Federation for the performance he made in 2000. If he returns to Russia and put on trial Mavromati faces 3-5 years of prison.

Mavromati currently lives in Sofia with his wife, Bulgaria artist Boryana Dragoeva. The couple are internationally exhibited video artists, Boryana is also currently a PhD student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY department of Electronic Arts.

This is not an isolated case.Amnesty International had made a statement about other Russian artists being prosecuted under article 282:

“Putting artists and curators on trial for their art or for organizing an art exhibition, their right to freedom of expression, as enshrined in international law and the Russian Constitution, has been compromised. Art is a form of communication and of expressing views. It can provoke or please and often has more than one meaning. Freedom of art is an integral part of freedom of expression, limitations to which are set forth in international law. Neither Russian, nor international human rights law permit freedom of expression to be restricted or prohibited simply on the grounds that some people find the views expressed offensive or disagreeable. Moreover, laws forbidding incitement to hatred should not be used to limit freedom of expression in order to protect or support a particular religious group or point of view as such. Rather, they should seek to limit forms of expression which have the potential to cause harm to individuals and which are incompatible with the underlyingvalues of human rights.”

Article 282 (for “inciting religious hatred and offending the feelings of religious believers.” has successfully been used to convict other artists,curators and journalists.

The most recent case was against the organizers of the art show Forbidden Art, Sakharov Museum in Moscow in 2007:
Despite the wide support of the Russian and international art community, the “court found that Yuri Samodurov, then Director of the Sakharov Museum and Andrei Yerofeev, then Head of the Department for Contemporary Art at the State Tretiakov Gallery, had arranged the exhibition in such a way that it denigrates Christianity, and especially the Russian Orthodox faith, and incited hatred against Orthodox and other Christians. The two men have been found guilty of ‘inciting hatred or enmity’ and ‘denigration of human dignity’ for organizing a contemporary art exhibition at the Sakharov Museum in March 2007 and have been ordered to pay a fine.”

An identical case was the trial against the art show “Caution Religion!”, 2001, Moscow.

Again despite the international support
Sakharov Museum director Yuri Samodurov, his deputy Lyudmila Vasilovskaya were charged for inciting ethnic and religious hatred under Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code.

Another artist Oleg Yanushevsky prosecuted under the same 282 law fro his art, had already found an asylum in the UK:

The artist Avdej Ter-Ogonjan was the first one to be prosecuted under the article 282, for his performance “The Young Atheist”, 1998 made at the Art Manège, Moscow. He is currently a refugee in the Czech Republic.

It seems that in Russia there is a regular violation of the basic human rights. No artist or art show organizer should be prosecuted and their right to freedom of expression should be respected and the criminal cases against them should be closed.


Please sign this petition for Oleg Mavromati and other Russian artists prosecuted under 282 article.

Please write letters of support for Mavromati to Boryana Dragoeva

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