(New York, NY) — PEN America called for the immediate release of Ukrainian theater director Yevhen Lavrenchuk, who has been detained in Italy since December 17 following an extradition request to Interpol from the Russian authorities, his family revealed on Tuesday, January 4. 

“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. 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,” said Julie Trébault, the director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. 

“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’s move last year to force a Ryanair flight to land in order to arrest blogger Raman Protasevich. The international human rights community warned back then that we will see more cases of transnational aggression like this, and here we are,” said Polina Sadovskaya, PEN America’s Eurasia director. “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.”

Lavrenchuk, a Ukrainian citizen who lived and worked in Moscow from 1998 to 2014, has staged more than 30 performances and was a co-founder and artistic director of the Polish Theater in Moscow from 2004 to 2014. In 2014, he left Russia in protest of the country’s annexation of  Crimea. Since then, he has been an outspoken critic of Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Crimea. The Russian authorities have accused Lavrenchuk of financial impropriety that he allegedly committed eight years ago, formally arresting him in absentia on July 2020.  

PEN America follows the developments in Russia concerning freedom of expression and artistic freedom through its Eurasia program. Read more about the recent sentencing of Belarusian blogger Ihar Losik and PEN America’s statement on Russian historian Yury Dmitriev’s illegal persecution. 

PEN America also leads the Artists at Risk Connection, a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. ARC recently released A Safety Guide For Artists, a resource that offers practical strategies to help artists understand, navigate, and overcome risk, and features an interview with Masha Alekhina, a member of Russian art collective Pussy Riot, about the state of free expression in the country. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC