Slammed by rights activists, a Russian court’s decision last week to fine two curators for organizing a provocative art exhibit earns harsh criticism in today’s editorial in the International Herald Tribune:
If anyone has lingering doubts about how little progress has been made toward freedom of expression and social justice in Russia, the decision by a Moscow court to fine the organizers of an exhibition of “Forbidden Art — 2006” should put them to rest.
True, the court could have gone farther and actually jailed the two defendants. And the Russian Orthodox Church and the government at least argued against prison sentences. But the fact that this trial went on for two years and ended in fines of $6,500 for one defendant and $4,900 for the other after they were convicted of inciting religious and ethnic “hatred or animosity” was hardly a major victory for freedom of any kind in Russia.
A Christian Science Monitor story, meanwhile, quotes experts who suggest the trial, which concluded just as a draft law was passed to give domestic security services greater power, is merely a foreshadowing of more severe restrictions on freedom to come:
The “government appears to be preparing itself to deal with large-scale public protests,” says Nikolai Petrov, with the Carnegie Center in Moscow. “It may not look like it on the surface, but there is a feeling that bad times are coming. The mechanisms are being put in place now to ensure that any social tensions or dissent within the elite can be quashed.”