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Russian Director Serebrennikov Freed From House Arrest


Russian theater and film director Kirill Serebrennikov leaves a court after a hearing in Moscow, Russia, Apr. 8, 2019.

A Moscow court has ordered the release of theater director Kirill Serebrennikov and two associates from house arrest.

The three are on trial in an embezzlement case they claim is politically motivated.

In an April 8 ruling, the Moscow City Court also ordered Serebrennikov, producer Yury Itin, and former Culture Ministry employee Sofia Apfelbaum not to leave Moscow until the end of their trial.

A fourth defendant in the high-profile case, producer Aleksei Malobrodsky, has already been barred from leaving Moscow.

Serebrennikov's August 2017 arrest drew international attention and prompted accusations that Russian authorities were targeting cultural figures who are at odds with President Vladimir Putin's government.

The acclaimed 49-year-old director was initially charged with organizing the embezzlement of more than $1 million in state funds granted from 2011 to 2014 to Seventh Studio, a nonprofit organization that Serebrennikov established.

In January 2018, prosecutors raised the amount Serebrennikov and his three co-defendants are accused of embezzling to $2 million.

All four defendants have pleaded not guilty and Serebrennikov has described the trial, which began in October 2018, as "absurd."

A fifth person charged in the case, accountant Nina Maslyayeva, pleaded guilty and has provided testimony used as evidence against the defendants. She is to be tried separately.

Serebrennikov's supporters say the case was part of a crackdown on the arts community ahead of the March 2018 presidential election in which Putin, a longtime Soviet KGB officer who was first elected president in 2000, won a fourth term.

Serebrennikov had previously taken part in antigovernment protests and voiced concerns about the increasing influence in Russia of the Russian Orthodox Church, whose ties with the state have increased under Putin.

Despite being under house arrest, the director has staged an opera that premiered in March in Hamburg, Germany.

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