Sakharov Director Faces Religious Hatred Charges

Prosecutors said they would charge the director of the Sakharov Museum with inciting religious hatred for running a 2007 art exhibit that contained paintings portraying Jesus Christ as Mickey Mouse.

The director, Yury Samodurov, is to be charged Tuesday, according to a copy of the notification he received from prosecutors last week. He faces up to five years in prison if convicted. The exact nature of the charges remains unclear.

"You must come … to be charged and questioned with regard to the criminal case surrounding the conducting of the 'Forbidden Art' exhibit," the letter said. Its signatory, investigator Yevgeny Korobkov, confirmed its authenticity when reached by telephone Thursday but refused to discuss the matter further, saying he was not authorized to do so.

Samodurov, who has been convicted of similar charges before, said authorities are "bent on imprisoning me."

"I am absolutely sure that is their aim," he said. "The principle of the exhibit was the new freedom of expression we thought we had."

The "Forbidden Art" exhibit — a collection of paintings and other visual works that had been banned at various exhibits across Russia that year — angered Russian Orthodox leaders.

The works, which were hidden behind a black wall pierced with peepholes, included paintings of Jesus Christ with the head of Mickey Mouse, fornicating soldiers and Lenin's image on a crucifix.

Samodurov said authorities had failed in an attempt to close the Moscow museum when he was convicted and fined for a 2003 exhibit titled "Caution: Religion!" He said he feared that this time they would succeed.