Russian artist refuses to testify at trial for torching security service HQ

18th May 2016, Comments 0 comments

Russian performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky refused to testify in court on Wednesday at the first full hearing of his trial for setting fire to the security service headquarters in a political protest.

The 32-year-old performance artist, best known for nailing his scrotum to the cobblestones of Red Square in 2013, stared into space and refused to answer the judge's questions during the trial at Moscow's Meshchansky district court.

In November Pavlensky doused the door of the FSB building with gasoline and set it alight in a protest against the powerful security service -- the successor to the KGB -- which he says imposes total control and terrorises Russia.

He faces up to three years in prison on charges of causing damage to a cultural heritage site.

A gaunt-looking Pavlensky told the courtroom that he would not testify until his offence is reclassified as an act of "terrorism," a demand he has voiced repeatedly.

"I won't speak any more," Pavlensky said from the defendant's cage, after refusing judge Yelena Gudoshnikova's request that he stand.

"I prefer being a witness or an observer," the artist told journalists as he was brought into court, saying he did not want to support "a bureaucratic ritual that is pointless on the one hand and collusion on the other."

He described his trial as "defining the frontiers of political art."

Pavlensky argues that his case should be tried as terrorism because a Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov was last year convicted of terrorism for arson attacks on pro-Kremlin party offices in Russia-annexed Crimea.

"I think that Pyotr did an important and needed thing," Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina, sentenced to two years in prison in 2012 for performing an anti-Putin anthem in a Moscow church, told AFP outside the courthouse.

"Pyotr is right to say that a prison is not only where there are bars, but that they are also in other places in our country."

The prosecutor said Pavlensky's protest had caused some 481,000 rubles ($6,616) in material damage to the door of the looming FSB building on Lubyanka square in central Moscow where those repressed under Soviet leader Josef Stalin were interrogated and shot.

Pavlensky's lawyers attempted to disprove that the door was part of a cultural heritage site.

Pavlensky, who is currently being held in isolation at Moscow's Medvedkovo prison, said Tuesday that the guards conveying him from court several days ago had beaten him, cracking his rib and injuring his knee.

"I feel fine," he said before the start of the hearing, adding that doctors had examined his injuries but had not treated his knee.

He said the injuries had been caused by guards taking him back to prison from Moscow City Court, whose spokeswoman in turn insisted that its staff do not accompany prison convoys. Instead police are responsible for this, the court said.


© 2016 AFP

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