On the closed trial of Evgenia Berkovich and Svetlana Petriychuk. Commentaries by Elena Sannikova & Aleksandr Podrabinek

In 2020, Evgenia Berkovich staged a play, Finist the Brave Falcon, that had been written by Svetlana Petriychuk in 2019. In 2022, the play received a Best Costume Designer award at the Golden Mask festival, Petriychuk won the Best Playwright award for her work. The play is based on real life stories of Russian women who married radical Islamists and moved to Syria, some of whom were arrested and put on trial for assisting terrorism when they returned to Russia. On 4 May 2023, Berkovich and Petriychuk, were remanded in custody on charges of ‘justifying terrorism’ in connection with this play. Their trial in Moscow began on 20 May 2024. On 13 June 2024 the court ruled that hearings should be closed to the public. If convicted, they face up to seven years’ imprisonment.

Elenq Sannikova (Photo: Facebook)

Elena Sannikova: ‘Everything’s different here’

13 June 2024

Source: Facebook

Zhenya and Sveta have just been led past us into the courtroom. I was barely able to give them a wave. There were three of us in the lobby of the court at that point. The other 50 had dispersed. 

The trials of the 1980s were all closed. They were never declared to be so but no one was allowed into the courtroom. Apart from close relatives.

People did not disperse, however. They stayed nearby until the accused was taken away.


13 June 2024

Source: Facebook

And again, bringing to mind the trials of the 1970s-80s. Yes, people weren’t admitted to the courtroom. But when a lawyer came out he would recount what had happened during the trial. When a witness (not one for the prosecution) came out, he too would give an account. Even the relatives who were allowed in did not remain silent as a rule.

Well, everything’s different here. The lawyers say nothing, the witnesses believe that if the trial is closed then they’re not entitled to recount how questioning went. 

But at least the crowd raised their game. And when Zhenya and Sveta were taken down the corridor for a break and back from the break after 5 p.m., some 10-15 people were there to lend their support. 

At exactly 6 p.m., court ushers drove everyone off the premises. The trial went on. 


Aleksandr Podrabinek: ‘A common mistake, born of cowardice’

13 June 2024

Source: Facebook

Lawyers and witnesses leave the closed session of the trial of Berkovich and Petriychuk and say nothing, tell no one anything, Еlena Sannikova has written on Facebook. Because it’s “not allowed”. Since it’s a closed trial, they have no right to recount how questioning went. It was the same at the trial of Vladimir Kara-Murza.

In fact this is a common mistake, born of cowardice. The law envisages a criminal sanction for the disclosure of information from a preliminary investigation (Article 310 of the Russian Criminal Code). A preliminary, not a court investigation! But everyone – witnesses and lawyers – are so intimidated that they don’t want to know and maintain their silence like partisans under interrogation! It’s quite simply shameful! And even if punishment was envisaged, how can you not talk about what you’ve seen? 

I think this is a matter not of legal illiteracy but of some kind of existential terror at any conflict with the state or justice system.  Since they’ve been told they’re not allowed to talk about the progress of the trial, it means they’re not allowed. And they obediently keep their mouths shut.  What a horror. Everything was the other way round in our day: relatives smuggled dictaphones into the courtroom, made their own recordings, immediately told everyone everything they’d seen. Revealing the progress of the court session was considered a point of honour. 


14 June 2024

Source: Facebook

The universal outrage at the trial of Berkovich and Petriychuk is understandable. It really is an outlandish trial. And now it’s a closed one too. Even the lawyers say nothing as if they’d swallowed their tongues. But please, tell me who engaged lawyers like this? The defence lawyer for Svetlana Petriychuk is Sergei Badamshin – a member of the United Russia Party. What sort of defence can you expect from him?


Translated by Melanie Moore


Write to Russia

You can use the following links to write to the two playwright-directors on trial for exercising their right to freedom of expression:

Evgenia Berkovich and Svetlana Petriychuk.


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