Culture clash sends Russian arts teacher to prison colony
Artist who upset conservative villagers convicted of accepting bribes
By Sophia Kishkovsky. Web only
Published online: 07 August 2013
Ilya Farber, an artist who moved from Moscow to rural Russia to teach drawing to local youth, has been sentenced to more than seven years in a prison camp for allegedly extorting bribes from a building contractor. The case has galvanised members of the Russian intelligentsia, who believe that Farber’s case is a warning to those who challenge the system.
In 2010, Farber moved to Moshenki, a village in the Tver region, and was hired as a drawing, literature and music teacher. But his unorthodox, bohemian approach—he reportedly taught classes while lying on his desk—created a conflict with some of the residents in the mainly conservative village. This came to a head after he was appointed director of the local, state-run recreation centre in 2011. That same year, Farber was arrested after a contractor he hired to renovate the space accused him of accepting a Rb300,000 ($10,000) bribe. Farber said that he had loaned the contractor money to carry out the repair work because state funds had not yet come through.
Farber was found guilty by a regional court last year, sentenced to eight years in a maximum-security prison colony and fined Rb3.2m ($97,000). The court ruled that the unfinished repair work cost the village Rb941,000 ($28,500). Russia’s Supreme Court overturned the verdict and ordered a retrial.
On 26 July, Farber was found guilty again by the regional court and was sentenced to seven years and one month in prison and fined Rb3.1m ($94,000).
A member of the Kremlin’s human rights council, which is now reviewing the case, called the verdict “too harsh”. The Russian Jewish Congress also raised concerns of anti-Semitism during the first trial, in which the prosecutor asked in court: “Is it possible for a person with the last name Farber to help a village for free?”
Artists, intellectuals and musicians gathered in Moscow last Sunday for a benefit concert to raise money to pay the fine. Farber’s supporters held another small demonstration in Moscow on Tuesday, 6 August.
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