September 23, 2017 / 1:25 PM / in a year

CORRECTED-Russia opens criminal case over arson attack linked to film about last tsar

(Corrects the director’s first name to Alexei from Andrei)

By Denis Pinchuk

MOSCOW, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Russian police said on Saturday they had opened a criminal case following a series of violent arson protests over a film about the country’s last tsar.

The film, “Matilda”, is by award-winning director Alexei Uchitel and tells the story of a love affair between Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II, and half-Polish ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya, who described the relationship in her memoirs.

“Matilda” is to be released internationally in late October despite protests from religious conservatives who are offended by what they believe is its disrespectful depiction of a man the Russian Orthodox Church regards as a martyr.

Some cinemas have said they will not be showing the film because of threats they received.

“A criminal case has been opened in connection with the fact (the cinemas) were forced not to show the film under the threat of violence against the spectators and causing of harm and damage to the cinemas’ owners”, the police said in statement, not naming the film or those detained or charged.

The police opened the case in connection with the arson attacks related to “Matilda”, TASS news agency reported, citing a police source.

Police used dogs as part of their security measures for the closed-door “Matilda” first-night earlier this week.

On Thursday police said they had detained four men, including the leader of a radical religious group, in connection with an arson attack related to the film. Three of the men had been charged with arson, including their alleged role in setting fire to two cars parked outside the office of Uchitel’s lawyer.

Other violent protests against the film have included an arson attack on Uchitel’s studio and a man driving a car into the facade of a cinema.

One of the detained men is Alexander Kalinin, leader of a religious group called Christian State that vowed to set cinemas on fire if they screen “Matilda”.

Russian authorities have promised they would stamp out any such extremist protests. (Writing by Denis Pinchuk; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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