What will art group Voina receive – state award or prison sentence?

On Monday, February 21, 2011 at 13.30 in the Independent press-centre (Moscow, Prechistenka, 17/9) a press-conference “What will the art group Voina receive – state award or prison sentence?” will take place. Human rights activists and art historians will discuss the criminalization of creativity and social critics on the day when the court makes decision on prolonging the custody for artist activists Leonid Nikolayev and Oleg Vorotnikov. The following people will participate in the press-conference: Andrei Kovalev, PhD in art history, associate professor of the Faculty of Arts of Moscow State University, winner of the 2008 modern visual art award Innovation in the “Theory, critics and art history” nomination, member of the Experts’ council of the Kandinsky prize; Andrei Yerofeyev, PhD in art history, member of the jury of the state modern art award Innovation; Anna Karetnikova, member of the Human Rights Centre Memorial (programme of support of civil activists); Stefaniya Kulayeva, worker of the Memorial organisation in St Petersburg; Alexandr Verkhovsky, director of the Information and analytical centre “Sova.” A Skype-conference with the lawyers of Nikolayev and Vorotnikov (on-line comments from the court) is also planned. леня1копирование Activists of the art group Voina: new political prisoners? While it was argued if street actions of the art group Voina can be considered art, one of their actions in St Petersburg was nominated for a state visual art award and even included in the short-list of the nominees. At the same time, artist activists Oleg Vorotnikov and Leonid Nikolayev have been held under custody in a St Petersburg prison for over three months as charged with hooliganism, motivated social discord and hostility towards police. They are accused of another action is St Petersburg titled “Palace revolution” where turned-over police cars were used as a part of artistic installation. From the very beginning, the investigation of this case has been carried out with serious violations of the rights of the suspects. The courts on pre-trial restrictions were politically motivated. New judges were appointed to the trials of February 21 and 22 on prolonging appointed pre-trial restriction – custody. Previous courts who decided to prolong the custody were a bright example of political bias of the decisions. The courts become absolutely dependent on political order and another stage of persecution of “the enemies of the state”. At the court on January 14 the prosecutor, asking to prolong the custody, called Nikolayev “dangerous for state and society.” Such evaluations are absurd in regard of the person charged with social-political statements and art (even if the art group Voina violated the public order and law, they were not dangerous for anyone). The court of the Moscow district of St Petersburg and city court later agreed with the prosecutor, i.e. agreed to prolong the custody even though the defence proposed to pay large bail. Thus, artists were found more dangerous for the society than people freed after committing grave crimes such as murders, violence and abuse of authority. The media recently reported about a policeman who was freed for the bail of many million roubles in the village of Kuschevskaya where very serious crimes were committed. It is interesting that the court did not wonder where money for that enormous bail came from but 4 millions for Vorotnikov and Nikolayev aroused many doubts. Although it was well-known that the artist Banksy wanted to pay the money as solidarity and support with the group Voina. It should be noted that the investigators do not have any real proofs. All accusation is based on an edited video from the Internet and testimonials of a person who identified them from photos. The cruel treatment of the artists shows the bias and hostility of the law-enforcement agencies towards the people who are suspected of protest actions and social critics of these structures. The arrest of the artists was accompanied by violence and tortures. Bags were put on their heads, during the long transferring they were forced to lie on the floor of the car with handcuffs. They were undoubtedly beaten. Even the prosecutor’s inspection confirmed this fact. The prison workers “punished” the artists many times. Leonid Nikolayev was moved to a special unit with close custody. Oleg Vorotnikov was put in a wet and cold cell which was witnessed by representatives of the Public monitoring commission who personally checked the prison conditions and reported that “the cell was in emergency condition. Vorotnikov was placed there as punishment to complaints on the prison administration”. Condemning of the activities of the officials is proscribed. This is the reason for cruel prosecution of the artists. It is demonstrative intimidation of the society and criminalization of any artistic or political critics. The defence and support of the political prisoners is important also as a means of self-defence of the society. Every person has a right to protest. And any artist has a right to self-expression.


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