Russian court jails stage personalities over ISIS wife play

A Russian playwright and theatre director have been convicted by a military court in Moscow of “justifying acts of terrorism”.

Director Yevgenia Berkovich and playwright Svetlana Petrichuk were sentenced to six years in prison each for staging the play The Brave Falcon Finist.

Based on true events, the play tells the story of Russian women who traveled to Syria during the country’s civil war to marry members of the Islamic State group.

Defense attorneys for the two women said they would appeal the verdict.

The trial, which took place partly behind closed doors, raised alarm bells about freedom of speech in Russia among the country’s artistic community.

In addition to being jailed, both women will be banned from “managing websites” for three years after their release.

According to Russia’s RBC news agency, these people have been detained since May 2023 and will now be transferred to a prison camp to serve their sentences.

According to RBC, the prosecution said the women had formed positive views about IS and prosecutor Yekaterina Denisova argued that the play had “signs of justifying terrorism”.

When the trial began in late May, Berkovich, 39, and Petrichuk, 44, said they staged the play because they opposed terrorism.

Berkovich said the performance was done to “stop terrorism” and added that she had “nothing but condemnation and disgust” for the terrorists.

RBC quoted Berkovich as saying: “I have absolutely no idea what these words have to do with me… I have never shared any form of Islam, whether extremist or otherwise.”

Both she and Petriychuk maintained their innocence throughout the trial.

Speaking after the women were sentenced, defence lawyer Ksenia Karpinskaya described the hearing as “completely illegal” and “unfair” and pledged to appeal despite “almost no hope”.

“I want you to know that these girls are completely innocent,” the lawyer added.

Berkovich’s supporters say her prosecution is linked to a series of poems she wrote criticizing Russia’s military attack on Ukraine.

Russia’s art community has come under increasing pressure from the Kremlin since the 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Several prominent Russian artists, writers and journalists have spoken out in support of the women, including newspaper editor Dmitry Muratov and actress Yulia Peresild.

The play, which premiered again in 2020, won two Golden Mask Theatre Awards for best playwright and best costumes.

In recent months, Russia has suffered deadly attacks by Islamist militants in both places. Moscow And DagestanThe Kremlin has made unsubstantiated accusations that Ukraine was involved in both incidents.


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