Russian Playwright and Director Sentenced to Six Years for “Justifying Terrorism” in Controversial Play

A Russian playwright and a theatre director have been found guilty of “justifying terrorism” by a military court in Moscow. Director Yevgenia Berkovich and playwright Svetlana Petrichuk were sentenced to six years each for their play “The Brave Falcon Finist.”

The play, loosely based on true events, depicts Russian women traveling to Syria during the civil war to marry Islamic State group members. The women’s defense lawyer vowed to appeal the verdict.

The trial, held partly behind closed doors, has raised concerns about freedom of expression in Russia, particularly within the artistic community. In addition to their jail sentences, both women are banned from “administering websites” for three years after their release. They have been in custody since May 2023 and will now be sent to a penal colony, according to Russian news agency RBC.

The prosecution argued that the play formed a positive opinion of IS, with prosecutor Yekaterina Denisova stating it contained “signs of justification of terrorism.” Berkovich and Petrichuk, aged 39 and 44 respectively, said they staged the play to oppose terrorism. Berkovich claimed the performance was intended to “prevent terrorism” and expressed her “condemnation and disgust” for terrorists. Both women maintained their innocence throughout the trial.

Defense lawyer Ksenia Karpinskaya described the hearing as “absolutely illegal” and “unfair,” pledging to appeal despite “little hope.” Supporters suggest Berkovich’s prosecution may be linked to her poems criticizing Russia’s military actions in Ukraine. Since the invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Russia’s artistic community has faced increasing pressure from the Kremlin.

Prominent Russian artists, writers, and journalists have shown support for the women, including newspaper editor Dmitry Muratov and actress Yulia Peresild. The play, which premiered in 2020, won two Golden Mask Theatre Awards for best playwright and best costumes.

In recent months, Russia has faced deadly attacks by Islamist militants in both Moscow and Dagestan, with the Kremlin making unsubstantiated suggestions of Ukraine’s involvement.

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