Playwright and director sentenced to six years in prison by Russian court


Russia sentenced a playwright and a theater director to six years in prison Monday on charges of “justifying terrorism” over an award-winning play. The decision was the latest verdict that has targeted outspoken cultural figures.

Theater director Yevgenia Berkovich, 39, and playwright Svetlana Petriychuk, 44, were arrested in May 2023 and prosecuted behind closed doors in Moscow over a play they staged in 2020.

The play, called “Finist, The Brave Falcon,” told the stories of the ISIS brides — Russian women who traveled to Syria to marry members of the Islamic State terrorist group they had met online. It was based on real case materials from interrogations and court verdicts and didn’t catch negative attention from the law enforcement at the time.

The authors have repeatedly stated that the play represents a cautionary tale exploring what pushes Russian women to covert to radical Islam. But during the trial, the state-appointed “expert witnesses” testified that the work contains “signs of radical feminist ideology” and glorifies terrorists, making them appear “interesting and attractive to girls and women” while discriminating against Russian men.

During a hearing last year, Berkovich said the play envisioned “a very simple and transparent idea that dozens of women in our time become random victims of evil.”

The play received funding from the Russian Culture Ministry and was awarded Russia’s top theater prize, called the Golden Mask.

Since Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Berkovich has also written antiwar poems, which her supporters said may be the reason behind the persecution. Shortly after the start of the war, she staged an antiwar demonstration and was jailed for 11 days.

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The defense plans to appeal the verdict, lawyer Ksenia Karpinskaya told Russia media after the trial. “We will, of course, appeal this decision, although there is little hope. But I want you to know that these women are absolutely innocent,” Karpinskaya said.

Berkovich is raising two adopted children and has elderly family members whom she fears she’ll never see again, the lawyer added, according to Russian channel TV Rain.

“She said that she would never see her grandmother again because she would not live another six years at 90. She might not see her adopted children; we don’t know what will happen to them tomorrow,” Karpinskaya said. “And she probably won’t be able to give birth to new children because of her age. And both the judge and the prosecutor knew about all of this.”

The trial of Berkovich and Petriychuk marked the first high-profile criminal case relating to a play since the Soviet era. It is also part of a sweeping campaign of repression the Kremlin launched against any voices critical of the war or President Vladimir Putin’s policies.

Many artists who spoke out against the invasion were fired from state-funded cultural institutions, including theaters and film studios, or blacklisted from performing in the country, with authorities pressuring venue owners to revoke show permits. Those who have publicly supported the war have enjoyed lucrative ad deals and features on state television and were favored by the Ministry of Culture, which allocates funding for the country’s biggest artistic projects.



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