(New York, NY) — Russian authorities have banned acclaimed director Kirill Serebrennikov from leaving the country, meaning he will be unable to attend the debut of his Palme d’Or-nominated film Petrov’s Flu at the Cannes Film Festival in July. Serebrennikov, a longtime Kremlin critic, received a three-year suspended sentence last June on embezzlement charges that human rights advocates say are a veiled attempt to silence him.

“Authorities have been targeting Serebrennikov for years as a result of his political criticism and his unflinching portrayals of Russian society,” said Julie Trébault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “This is yet another example of Russia’s retaliation against artists who explore themes or tell stories that fall outside the government’s approval. We strongly condemn the decision to prevent Serebrennikov from traveling to Cannes in recognition of an award that is typically seen as an honor for both the artist and their home country.” 

Serebrennikov was accused of embezzling public funds from the Gogol Center, an arts complex in Moscow, a charge that he has always denied. Numerous human rights groups and prominent cultural figures have decried the case for being politically motivated, pointing to the inclusion of false evidence in the trial—such as a claim that one of Serebennikov’s shows never took place, when in fact it was seen by thousands of people. As part of his sentence, a Russian court banned Serebrennikov from international travel until June 2023. His films, which illuminate complex themes such as religion, sex, and politics, have been lauded on the international stage, but conservative critics in Russia have deemed them controversial. Serebrennikov previously earned a Palme d’Or nomination for his 1980s-set musical Leto in 2018 — a ceremony which he was also unable to attend, since he was under house arrest at the time for embezzlement. 

PEN America follows the developments in Russia concerning freedom of expression and artistic freedom through its Eurasia program and leads the Artists at Risk Connection, a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC.