An international freedom of expression group is calling on Italy to release a Ukrainian stage director after he was detained by Interpol in Naples on Dec. 17 on charges brought by the Russian Federation.
According to the Ukrainian news agency "Interfax-Ukraine," theatrical director and Ukrainian national Yevhen Lavrenchuk was arrested Dec. 17 in Naples, Italy, through Interpol on charges of "financial violations" in Russia while he worked in Moscow from 1998-2014.
Russian media reported Lavrenchuk was arrested "in absentia" in Russia in 2020 through the Tagansky Court of Moscow for alleged crimes committed eight years earlier.
No details of the alleged crimes have been released, the publication said.
Lavrenchuk left his position as chief director for the Odessa Opera and Ballet Theater in the Russian Federation in 2014 as a protest of the military aggression that nation was engaging in, according to the report.
He is currently held in pre-trial detention and is getting some assistance from The Consulate General of Ukraine in Naples.
The international PEN America organization is calling on Italy to release Lavrenchuk because the normal Interpol protocols for arrests and extradition were not followed in his case.
"The Russian government has a well-documented history of using Interpol as a cudgel against its critics abroad, as well as a notorious practice of filing pretextual criminal charges against those it wishes to silence," Julie Trébault, the director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America, wrote in a press release. "If they comply with Russia's extradition request, Italian authorities will be rendering themselves complicit in Russian censorship and related human rights abuses against Russia's artistic community."
PEN America is the American chapter of the international organization that advocates for freedom of expression in literature and writing throughout the world, protecting the human rights of authors, according to that organization's website.
The organization was founded in 1922 and has more than 100 centers throughout the world, with a national membership of more than 7,500 novelists, journalists, nonfiction writers, editors, poets, essayists, playwrights, publishers, translators, agents, and other writing professionals.
"The circumstances of Lavrenchuk's detention — he was detained in Naples while transferring to a flight to Lviv after traveling from Tel Aviv — are a disturbing echo of Belarus' move last year to force a Ryanair flight to land in order to arrest blogger Raman Protasevich," PEN America's Eurasia director Polina Sadovskaya, PEN America's Eurasia director wrote in a statement. "The international human rights community warned back then that we will see more cases of transnational aggression like this, and here we are.
"In this case, Lavrenchuk is one of the most visible voices against the Russian annexation of Crimea in the Eurasian theater community, and Russia's extradition request against him bears the hallmarks of politically motivated repression. We call on the Italian authorities to formally reject Russia's extradition request and to immediately release Lavrenchuk."
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