A Moscow court has ruled on Friday, May 5th, that both artists must remain in custody until at least 4 July. Both are accused of “justifying terrorism” in their play “Finist, the Brave Falcon”, an ironic play about Russian women recruited by the Islamic State that Berkovich’s independent theater company, SOSO Daughters, produced. “Finist” premiered in 2020 and was awarded Best Text at the most important Russian theatre festival Golden Mask 2022. Authorities also detained the company’s director, Alexander Andriyevich. The court thus complied with a request by investigators, as the state agency Tass reported. Authorities raided the homes of Berkovich’s mother Jelena Efross and her 88-year-old grandmother, the writer Nina Katerli in St. Petersburg the same day.
The 38-year-old Berkovich is one of the few outstanding theatre directors of her generation who did not go into exile after 24 February 2022 and, despite everything, tried to continue making contemporary theatre in the warring homeland. She studied directing under Kirill Serebrennikov at the Moscow Art Theater School and writes poetry. Berkovich is also known as a translator and librettist.
The author of “Finist, the Brave Falcon”, Svetlana Petriychuk, studied international journalism and filmmaking in Los Angeles and theater in Moscow under the renowned directors Kama Ginkas and Mikhail Ugarov. Her socially critical plays regularly appear on the shortlists of drama contests and festivals and on the playbills of leading theatres in Russia.
The charge is punishable by up to seven years in prison.
Novaya Gazeta published a petition (Google Docs, Russian) supporting the two women and calling for their immediate release. The petition has already more than 12,000 signatures.
Mohammadi was arrested on Nov. 5, 2022, and has been sentenced to execution by the court of the city of Karaj. The death sentence was lifted in January 2023. A new trial in Karaj has now been held to decide on the sentences of 14 accused in connection with the death of a Bassij militiaman. Mohammadi, who has been in custody since November, has now been sentenced to 10 years in prison. The detention of the accused had initially been justified by their participation in a memorial service for Hadis Najafi, who was killed by Basijis during a demonstration in Karaj at the end of September. Two demonstrators were executed earlier this year as part of the major trial that eventually heard charges of “corruption on earth” and “conspiracy against internal and external security”: Mohammad Mehdi Karami and Seyed Mohammad Hosseini.
ACAR’S list of arrested Iranian theatre artists grows to 41 names: The revolution court of Tehran has announced 6 years jail sentence for Shiva Shabani, film and theater actress. She was arrested in early November in connection with nationwide protests and released on bail later that month.
Shabani was sentenced to five years for “assembly and collusion against national security” and an additional year for “propaganda against the state”. In addition to the six-year prison sentence, there is a two-year ban on leaving the country, a two-year ban on membership of political organizations, a ban on publishing in print and digital media, and a two-year ban on working in theatre and film.
ACAR shares and supports today’s address of solidarity from the Duesseldorfer Schauspielhaus: “Actor and artist Hossein Mohammadi was arrested during protests in Iran and sentenced to death in a summary trial. We declare our solidarity with our colleague Hossein Mohammadi and all protesters in Iran. We strongly condemn all human rights violations! We condemn the death penalty!”
Mohammadi, 26, was arrested on Nov. 5, 2022, and has been sentenced to execution by the court of the city of Karaj, along with four other protesters. He is accused of taking part in the murder of a member of the Basij militia. The execution of the death sentence is imminent.
Update: We publish a – surely not complete – list with Iranian theatre artists who have been or where arrested or sentenced because of their participation in the political protests since October 2022 (current status December 19, 2022). The list is regularly updated and can be downloaded here.