Russian director, playwright on trial over play authorities say justifies terrorism

TALLINN, Estonia — A Russian court on Monday opened the trial of a theater director and a playwright accused of advocating terrorism in a play, the latest step in an unrelenting crackdown on dissent in Russia that has reached new heights since Moscow sent troops into Ukraine.

Zhenya Berkovich, a prominent independent theater director, and playwright Svetlana Petriychuk have been jailed for over a year.

Authorities claim their play “Finist, the Brave Falcon” justifies terrorism, which is a criminal offense in Russia punishable by up to seven years in prison.

Berkovich and Petriychuk have both repeatedly rejected the accusations against them.

Berkovich told the court on Monday that she staged the play in order to prevent terrorism, and Petriychuk echoed her sentiment, saying that she wrote it in order to prevent events like those depicted in the play.

The women’s lawyers have pointed out at court hearings before the trial that the play was supported by the Russian Culture Ministry and won the Golden Mask award, Russia’s most prestigious national theater award.

In 2019, the play was read to inmates of a women’s prison in Siberia, and Russia’s state penitentiary service praised it on its website, Petriychuk’s lawyer has said.

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