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Germany

Police Say Controversial Russian Artist Missing in Berlin

A controversial Russian artist who angered the Kremlin and Russian Orthodox Church with an exhibition which was accused of "inflaming religious hatred" has been missing from her Berlin home for the past week.

Anna Mikhalchuk

Anna Mikhalchuk angered the Kremlin and the Orthodox Church with her exhibition

Anna Mikhalchuk, an outspoken opponent of the Russian government, apparently left the home she shares with her husband, the philosopher Michail Ryklin, last Friday to run errands and has not been seen since, police in the German capital said Thursday.

A team of five police divers were searching a lake close to her home while more than 80 officers were combing the surrounding areas for clues to Mikhalchuk's disappearance.

"The woman, who is considered reliable, left her home near Lietzen Lake Friday around 15:00," the police statement said. "Since then there has been no sign of her," it added, before explaining that Mikhalchuk speaks fluent English but only broken German.

Exhibition attacking the church causes outrage

Mikhalchuk, who is also known as Anna Alchuk, moved to Berlin with Ryklin in November. She was acquitted in March 2005 on charges of inflaming religious hatred stemming from a controversial 2003 art exhibition in Moscow entitled "Caution! Religion" featuring works such as a naked woman nailed to a cross. The court labeled the exhibition "openly insulting and blasphemous."

In the aftermath of the case, two associates -- the director of the Moscow museum where the exhibition was shown and an employee at the institution -- were convicted and each fined 100,000 rubles [2695 euros, $4,300].

Human Rights Watch said the verdicts highlighted "a climate of growing intolerance for freedom of expression in Russia."

Missing artist's husband writes of threats

Her husband wrote a letter to the police Saturday saying that he had received several anonymous threats in the past, Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel reported. "A politically motivated or anti-Semitic crime cannot be ruled out," Ryklin wrote in excerpts from the letter quoted by the paper. The couple is Jewish.

Ryklin, a former research director of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow and currently a guest professor for Slavic studies at Berlin's Humboldt University, is himself a fierce critic of the Kremlin. He has frequently accused the Russian government of muzzling political opponents and curtailing civil rights.

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