The Belgrade Theatre Festival, BITEF, has joined calls for the freedom of the Russian theatre and film director Kirill Serebrennikov – who is under house arrest.

Serbia’s most prestigious theatre festival, BITEF, has dismissed the stated reasons for Kirill Serebrennikov’s detention in Russia as unacceptable and has expressed the hope that other, political reasons, are not hidden behind the charges.

It noted that Serebrennikov’s plays had been part of BITEF’s program and that the artistic director of the festival, Ivan Medenica, had been a member of the jury of the prestigious “Premio Europa: The Theater Reality” award, which Serebrennikov received this year.

The statement recalled that the director of the Russian Gogol Centre was well known for pointing out censorship in Russia, for opposing the annexation of the Crimea and for advocating for the rights of the LGBT population.

BITEF said in its press release, published on the SEEcult website, that it would like to see the Russian artist as the guest of the Festival and, “above all as a free man – if not in September in Belgrade, then at least in December in Rome, at the ceremony for the Premio Europa Award”.

Russian investigators detained Serebrennikov this month and have accused him of fraud. Outside Russia, the case is widely seen as a case of silencing a difficult opposition voice.

Serebrennikov has already received the support of numerous colleagues worldwide. According to the London Guardian, a petition penned by Thomas Ostermeier, director of Schaubühne theatre in Berlin, and the playwright Marius von Mayenburg calls on Moscow’s public prosecutor to drop the “flimsy” and “politically motivated” charges.

“The impression that Serebrennikov’s arrest is sending to the west is of a government scared of criticism,” Ostermeier said. “And if you can’t stand criticism, that’s usually a sign of weakness.”

The petition has been signed by Cate Blanchett, among others, the UK newspaper reported.