Russian celebrities gather outside Moscow court to demand director's release
By Polina Nikolskaya and Andrew Osborn
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Some of Russia's most famous actors, celebrities and directors on Wednesday joined crowds outside a Moscow court house to demand the release of prominent film and theater director Kirill Serebrennikov.
Serebrennikov, an award-winning director, was detained by investigators on Tuesday and accused of fraud. His supporters say it is part of a government crackdown on the arts ahead of a presidential election next year.
The director, who has used his work to poke fun at the authorities, lashing out at what he sees as the pernicious role of the church and state in Russian society, denies any wrongdoing.
Crowds outside the courtroom on Wednesday chanted "Freedom!" and "Kirill!"
Writer and director Viktor Shenderovich, who had come to support Serebrennikov, said he thought the case was meant to be a warning to others.
"Kirill Serebrennikov is a world class director and this is a clear signal before the elections," Shenderovich told Russian broadcaster TV Rain.
"(The signal is that ) no global profile ... or elite will save you from the interests of a repressive state if it decides that it is in its interests to put you on the ground face down."
Russia's Investigative Committee said on Tuesday it suspected Serebrennikov of embezzling at least 68 million roubles ($1.15 million) in state funds earmarked for an art project.
A state prosecutor told the hearing on Wednesday that the director led a criminal group and was a flight risk and should therefore be placed under house arrest.
Serebrennikov's case has raised an outcry among the country's liberal cultural elite who say they fear the director was being persecuted for his edgy work.
"I want to be released because I am not guilty," the director told the judge on Wednesday. "All the accusations made against me are absurd. I've been working honestly for many years. I need to finish filming a movie and put shows on."
Serebrennikov, art director at Moscow's avant-garde Gogol Center theater, faces up to 10 years in jail if found guilty.
A decision on whether he will be put under house arrest or freed on bail before his trial was expected later on Wednesday.
If placed under house arrest, he would be banned from using the phone or communicating with anyone without investigators' permission.
(Editing by Christian Lowe)