Russian playwright and theatre director sentenced to six years for “justifying terrorism”.

A Russian military court has sentenced playwright Yevgeniya Berkovich and theatre director Svetlana Petriychuk to six years in prison for “justifying terrorism” in their play about women marrying jihadists in Syria. The trial, held behind closed doors, concluded with the judge delivering a sentence equal to the prosecutor’s request and one year less than the maximum possible.

The arrest of Berkovich and Petriychuk in May last year shocked Russia’s artistic community, which has been under increased pressure from the Kremlin since the onset of the Ukraine conflict. Berkovich, known for her poems criticizing Russia’s military actions in Ukraine, is believed by supporters to have been targeted for her outspoken views.

Rachel Denber, deputy director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch, condemned the sentencing as retaliation against Berkovich for opposing Russia’s war in Ukraine. Amnesty International also decried the charges, stating the women were punished for exercising their right to freedom of expression and called for their immediate release.

The courtroom scene was heavily secured, with the women appearing in handcuffs and confined to a glass-walled dock under the watch of masked police officers.