XIAMEN, China (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that there was no censorship or official pressure behind the arrest of a film and theater director whose edgy work has angered traditionalists in the Russian establishment.
Russian prosecutors say they suspect the director, Kirill Serebrennikov, of embezzling at least 68 million rubles ($1.17 million) in state funds earmarked for an art project. Serebrennikov, under house arrest awaiting trial, denies the charges.
The case has prompted an outcry among the country’s liberal cultural elite who said they feared the director was being persecuted for his work, which has often poked fun at the authorities.
Putin, in his first public comments after Serebrennikov’s arrest, denied any political overtones in his case.
“Serebrennikov used to receive state funds – this means there was no censorship, no pressure,” he told a news conference after a summit of the BRICS nations in China.
“Otherwise, he would simply have not been given state funds, if there had been intentions to rein in his creative activity.”
Putin said that there were differing attitudes to Serebrennikov’s work, but said it was “just a matter of taste”.
“If authorities earmark funds, it means that at least they view it from a neutral position and allow the artist to perform, to work,” he said.
“The only question for the investigation is the legality of spending budget funds,” he added. “Should investigative and auditing bodies see someone violating the law in force, the same methods will be applied to them. And they will also be brought to justice.”
Reporting by Denis Pinchuk; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Christian Lowe