Russian authorities target play in latest sign of crackdown

Russian authorities demonstrated again Thursday that they are widening their crackdown on dissent by investigating and detaining artists involved in a play staged in Moscow.

The human rights group OVD-Info reported on Telegram that theater director Zhenya Berkovich was detained in Moscow on a charge of justifying terrorism because of her play “Finist, the Brave Falcon.”

Her mother reported that her apartment was being searched in St. Petersburg. Playwright Svetlana Petriychuk was also detained and interrogated as a suspect in the case, according to OVD-Info. The director of the theater that staged the play was also reported to have been questioned.

Justifying terrorism is a criminal offense in Russia, punishable by up to seven years in prison.

The Latvia-based news outlet Meduza says the play is about women who “decided to virtually marry representatives of radical Islam and go to live with them in Syria.”

Since invading Ukraine in February 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin has increased punishments and widened the scope of a years-old crackdown on criticism of government policies, other forms of dissent and actions that his government considers to be supporting terrorism. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Russians have been fined, jailed or fled the country because of the crackdown.