Russia adds director and playwright to ‘terrorists and extremists’ list

By Thomson Reuters Apr 15, 2024 | 11:48 AM

LONDON (Reuters) – Russian theatre director Zhenya Berkovich and playwright Svetlana Petriychuk have been added to an official list of “terrorists and extremists” as they await trial on charges of “justifying terrorism”.

The pair were arrested in May last year. The charges against them relate to an award-winning play about Russian women who married Islamic State fighters.

The “terrorists and extremists” register is published online and run by Rosfinmonitoring, a state agency which is empowered to freeze the assets of people and entities on the list – even if they have yet to be convicted of a crime.

Berkovich, 38, and Petriychuk, 43, are among many thousands of people and entities who have been similarly designated in a crackdown on perceived subversive activity that intensified after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

The Kremlin does not comment on individual cases but says Russia is engaged in an existential struggle with the West and needs to robustly uphold its laws and defend itself.

The play “Finist the Bright Falcon” was written by Petriychuk and premiered in 2020 under Berkovich’s direction. The case arising from it has become a focus for fellow artists, human rights defenders and free speech campaigners.

In a court appearance in January, Berkovich addressed the judge in verse, satirising the repetitive and slow-moving pace of proceedings and describing the pain that she and her family were going through.

In the speech, a version of which was later released by Russian artists in a rap-style YouTube video with music and graphics – Berkovich said, in part:

“I’m in Russia, under investigation’s net,

Nowhere to escape, nothing to gain.

I still have two sick kids, don’t forget,

Whose childhoods are stolen, once again.”

(Reporting by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Gareth Jones)