Teodor Currentzis and Gidon Kremer condemn the arrest on fraud charges that many see as politically motivated.

“Shame,” yelled protestors outside the courtroom in Moscow where Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov was placed under house arrest ahead of a trial for fraud. The director has been accused of embezzling 68 million roubles of government money, some of which had been slated for a play that investigators are saying was not produced. Serebrennikov has denied the charges. “I am an honest man,” he told the court, “I have nothing apart from Russia and work in Russian culture.”

Many see the arrest of the director – who has been outspoken about censorship in the arts – following three months of raids, as politically motivated and are concerned it is part of a wider attack on artists ahead of the Russian presidential election that will take place in March next year.

A total of 34 Russian artists, including the director of the Bolshoi theatre, offered to guarantee Serebrennikov’s bail. But while Serebrennikov’s lawyer argued that the director was not a flight risk, the judge ruled that there was a risk he would seek to destroy evidence or influence witnesses.

The arrest follows the indefinite postponement of the highly anticipated premiere of Nureyev, a biographical ballet based on the life of the Russian dancer, which Serebrennikov was directing. While officially the premiere was called off because the ballet was “not ready”, that claim has been disputed among allegations that the work’s exploration of sexuality may have been behind the move.

Serebrennikov’s arrest will cause problems for overseas productions, particularly for Stuttgart Opera, who will be staging the director’s production of Humperdinck’s opera Hansel and Gretel in October.

A number of artists have come out in condemnation of the arrest, including violinist Gidon Kremer and Russian-based Greek conductor Teodor Currentzis.

“Every state should aim at creating such a system where people trust law enforcement agencies, trust court,” Currentzis wrote in a statement on his Facebook page, in Russian and English. “But we are witnessing situation with an opposite effect. What do we see now? Well known men openly defraud huge sums of money and stay free. Moreover, they are still in the head of state theatres, and are quite privileged. At the same time, people who are doing real stuff, people who create something new in modern art, which is recognised all over the world, these people end up in prison.”

Currentzis argues that the “harsh and prejudicial treatment” of an artist like this diminishes the Russian justice system. “If it continues, directors will be afraid of doing their job which includes freedom of speech and search for a new language. And if government system is out of trust, what is there left?”

“I am deeply disturbed by the situation that led to the arrest of the orginal Russian artist Kirill Serebrennikov,” Kramer wrote in a statement translated on Slippedisc. “The way it was conducted (night raid in a minibus, police in masks) is even more depressing.”

“The trampling of elementary human rights has been and continues to be a sad tradition of Russian society,” he wrote.

“It is not only that a famous Russian director is imprisoned,” Currentzis wrote. “The whole Russian modern art is at stake.”