Russian court frees artist with fine for torching security service door

8th June 2016, Comments 0 comments

A Moscow court on Wednesday released radical performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky but ordered him to pay a hefty fine for torching the door of Russia's security services, in a rare show of leniency by the authorities.

A judge ordered the artist to pay 500,000 rubles ($7,800, 6,800 euros) after finding him guilty, saying the punishment was reduced due to the seven months Pavlensky had already spent behind bars.

He was also ordered to pay damages of 481,000 rubles to the Federal Security Service (FSB) -- the successor to the feared Soviet-era KGB -- to cover the cost of the burnt door.

Pavlensky had faced up to three years' jail on charges of damaging a cultural site.

He doused the door of the FSB's Moscow headquarters with gasoline and set it on fire, in a performance last November that he called "Threat".

"Thanks to all for the support, thanks to those who were not afraid," Pavlensky told the crowd of journalists crammed into the courtroom, addressing them from the defendants' cage.

"I can't pay the fine," he said, telling journalists that it was a matter of principle not to pay money to the authorities.

Pavlensky's trial was the most closely-watched of an anti-Kremlin artist since Russia jailed members of protest punk group Pussy Riot in 2012 for performing a song attacking President Vladimir Putin in Moscow's main cathedral. Their incarceration caused an outcry in the West.

Pavlensky, a gaunt 32-year-old figure known for intensely physical performances to highlight Russia's restrictions on political freedoms, said he started the fire at the FSB to highlight its "method of continuous terror" to control Russian society.

"These authorities hold onto power through terror," Pavlensky told journalists outside the court after his release.

"It was in their interests to free me, they wanted to show a hypocritical mask of humanity."

Prosecutors had asked the judge on Monday to impose a higher fine of 1.5 million rubles.

Its infamous central Moscow building -- known as the Lubyanka -- was where some prominent figures were detained and executed during the Stalinist purges.

Pavlensky -- who has won international critical acclaim for his work -- has previously nailed his scrotum to Red Square, sewn his lips together, wrapped himself in barbed wire and chopped off part of his ear.

He refused to testify at his trial, speaking only to journalists and supporters.

While his defence team fought for his freedom, he himself demanded that the judge try him for terrorism.

He has consistently argued he should face terrorism charges, likening his case to that of Ukrainian film maker Oleg Sentsov who was convicted of terrorism last year for setting fire to the offices of a pro-Kremlin party in Russian-annexed Crimea.

In May, Pavlensky was awarded the Vaclav Havel award for creative dissent, previously given to Russia's punk band Pussy Riot and Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei.

The artist was also convicted last month for vandalism in a separate case for a 2014 performance in his home city of Saint Petersburg called "Freedom" inspired by Ukraine's anti-government protests.

He was given a non-custodial sentence of 16 months which was then immediately lifted as the statute of limitations had expired during the long-running trial.


© 2016 AFP

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