'Forbidden Art' Charges Handed Over to Courts

Prosecutors have completed their investigation of two organizers of an art exhibit who are accused of inciting religious hatred with a collection of controversial paintings and other visual works.

Yury Samodurov, curator of the Sakharov Museum, and Andrei Yerofeyev, former head of the contemporary art department of the Tretyakov Gallery, face up to five years in prison for organizing the "Forbidden Art" exhibit.

The exhibit, which included a painting showing Jesus Christ with the head of Mickey Mouse and Lenin on a crucifix, sparked protests from the Russian Orthodox Church and other religious groups after it opened at the Sakharov Museum last year.

The City Prosecutor's Office said in a statement Thursday that investigators had wrapped up the investigation and sent the case to the Tagansky District Court for trial.

The exhibit contained "humiliating and offensive images in relation to the Christian religion and citizens who follow that religion," prosecutors said in the statement.

Samodurov accused the lead investigator of bias in the case, saying he "practically only questioned witnesses for the prosecution."

"I can't trust the investigation," Samodurov said.

Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, called the case "shameful and unlawful" and said it represents a step toward closing the [Sakharov] museum, which irritates the authorities because it criticizes human rights abuses.

Alexeyeva said she had asked City Prosecutor Yury Syomin to look into the case and that he promised to do so.

Samodurov was convicted in 2005 on the same charges for an exhibition titled "Watch Out, Religion!" and fined 100,000 rubles.

Oleg Kassin, a member of the Orthodox organization and a prosecution witness, said he expected a guilty verdict and a more severe sentence.

"These people have already had one court case," Kassin said. "The second punishment will be harsher."

The press office of the Russian Orthodox Church said no one was available to comment on the case.