Internet InfoMedia russian playwright and theater director are convicted of justifying terrorism
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A theater director and playwright were sentenced to prison, a stark indication of the increasing suppression of free speech since Russia’s attack on Ukraine, their lawyers and critics say.

A Russian military court found a playwright and a theater director guilty of “justifying terrorism” on Monday, sentencing them to six years in prison each in a case that critics say is the latest chilling example of the crackdown on free speech since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

The playwright, Svetlana Petriychuk, 44, and the director, Yevgenia Berkovich, 39, are both acclaimed members of the Russian theater world and have been in custody since May 2023. In addition to the six-year sentences, exactly the time frame requested by prosecutors, both women will be banned from “administering websites” for three years following their release.

The play Ms. Petriychuk wrote and Ms. Berkovich staged, “Finist the Brave Falcon,” is an adaptation of a classic fairy tale of the same name, interwoven with the stories of women baited online by men into joining the Islamic State. It is loosely based on the true stories of thousands of women from across Russia and the former Soviet Union who were recruited by ISIS terrorists. The main character of the play returns to Russia feeling betrayed and disappointed by the man who lured her there, only to be sentenced to prison as a terrorist herself.

The prosecutor, Ekaterina Denisova, insisted that Ms. Petriychuk holds “extremely aggressive Islamic ideologies” and formed a “positive opinion” of ISIS, according to the Russian outlet RBK, and that Ms. Berkovich holds “ideological convictions related to the justification and propaganda of terrorism.”

Both women and their lawyers said they were innocent, repeatedly insisting during the trial that the play had an explicitly antiterror message.

“I absolutely do not understand what this set of words has to do with me,” said Ms. Berkovich, when she pleaded not guilty. “I have never partaken in any forms of Islam: neither radical nor any other. I have respect for the religion of Islam, and I feel nothing but condemnation and disgust toward terrorists.”

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