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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 June, 2004, 14:36 GMT 15:36 UK
'Blasphemy' trial held in Moscow
Yuri Samodurov, director of Andrei Sakharov Museum, with supporters
Yuri Samodurov's supporters likened his trial to the Inquisition
A prominent human rights activist has gone on trial in Moscow accused of inciting religious hatred by exhibiting allegedly blasphemous artworks.

The head of the Andrei Sakharov Museum, Yuri Samodurov, organised an exhibition last year featuring a depiction of Christ on a Coca-Cola advert.

There was also a sculpture of a church made from vodka bottles.

Andrei Sakharov Museum exhibit
Vandals sprayed the word 'blasphemy' behind this exhibit

Vandals defaced the exhibits just days after they went on display, but charges against them were later dropped.

Mr Samodurov could face up to five years in prison if found guilty.

Two others who helped organise the January 2003 exhibition "Caution! Religion" are also on trial.

Mr Samodurov insists he had no intention of causing insult to believers, saying the case against him is absurd and a direct challenge to such fundamental principles as freedom of conscience and expression.

His supporters say it also highlights the growing power and influence of the Orthodox Church in what remains, constitutionally, a secular state.

Andrei Sakharov Museum exhibit
Visitors can poke their head through this icon

Defence lawyers told the Taganka district court that the accusations failed to specify which artworks incited religious hatred and against whom and why.

"If what the church believes to be blasphemy is seen as a crime in a secular state, it means that this is a political trial," said Mr Samodurov.

The Sakharov Museum was founded to promote democracy and human rights, as championed by the late Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov.


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