Two Russian art curators were sentenced to hefty fines yesterday for inciting religious hatred over a 2007 exhibition that included artworks comparing Jesus Christ to Mickey Mouse and Vladimir Lenin.
The exhibition, entitled "Forbidden Art" was held three years ago at the Sakharov Museum. Yuri Samodurov, the director of the museum until 2008, and Andrei Yerofeyev, the exhibition's curator, were fined 200,000 roubles and 150,000 roubles (£4,300 and £3,200) respectively.
"This conviction means our government is following a dangerous path for a so-called democracy," said Mr Samodurov immediately after the verdict. He said he did not have the money to pay the fine and would appeal.
The case has pitted much of Russia's artistic and intellectual community against the resurgent Orthodox Church, and there were brief scuffles between the two factions outside the courtroom yesterday. Prosecutors had pushed for a jail sentence, and church activists were furious that no jail term was imposed.
"This can't be allowed to stand," a black-clad church activist holding a silver cross told the Associated Press. "Society must be protected from these people. We wage spiritual war on them and will hound them out of Russia."
Earlier in the day, a performance art group had released thousands of live cockroaches into the corridors of the courthouse, in protest at what they called "cockroach justice".
Rights groups were quick to criticise the guilty verdicts. "These shameful verdicts are yet another blow to freedom of expression in Russia," said Amnesty International's Europe and Central Asia programme director, Nicola Duckworth. "Such judgements have no place in a state supposedly ruled by law."
The works, reasonably tame in comparison to some of the shock-art to which visitors to Western galleries are accustomed, had all been refused participation in other exhibitions, prompting organisers to set up the special show.
The works which most angered the Orthodox Church involved biblical scenes where the figure of Christ was replaced by Mickey Mouse.
In another artwork, the face of a saint in a traditional Orthodox icon was replaced with black caviar. Other Moscow curators have said they will restage the exhibition in a show of support for the two convicted men.
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