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Home News Russian artist on trial for torching security service HQ door

Russian artist on trial for torching security service HQ door

Published on 28/04/2016

Russian performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky went on trial Thursday for setting fire to the door of the country's security service headquarters, a charge that risks three years in prison.

Pavlensky, 32, doused the door with gasoline and set it on fire in November 2015 in a performance he called “Threat”.

He has explained his act as an attempt to challenge the FSB, the successor to the KGB, which he says is an institution that imposes total control and terrorises Russia.

The gaunt-looking Pavlensky, who is best known for nailing his scrotum to the cobblestones of Red Square in another performance, smiled as he was escorted into the courtroom in handcuffs, accompanied by three guards and a dog.

During the closed-door hearing ahead of the full trial, the judge extended Pavlensky’s detention in Moscow’s Butyrka jail to October 20, defence lawyer Olga Dinze told journalists.

The prosecution initially charged him with vandalism motivated by ideological hatred, however they later reclassified his crime as damage to a cultural heritage object.

Both charges could lead to a prison term of three years.

In previous appearances before a judge, Pavlensky has called for the offence be tried as terrorism and has refused to speak in court.

Dinze ridiculed the definition of a door as a cultural object, saying the one at the FSB building in central Moscow was installed only in 2008.

“We agreed more with the charge of (vandalism) motivated by ideological hatred, because it is impossible to feel anything else toward the (former KGB headquarters),” she said.

“Documents show how many people were jailed there, how many people were killed there,” she said referring to the building, where many people are known to have been shot during Stalin’s purges.

She said the defence is trying to persuade retired KGB officers to agree to testify in the case and talk about what the organisation does.

The artist is also being tried on a separate case in Moscow after another performance that saw him set car tyres on fire in his home city of Saint Petersburg in 2014 in a nod to the pro-Western rallies in Kiev where protesters toppled the pro-Russian government in February of that year.

In that case, which will not lead to jail time, Pavlensky brought sex workers into court Wednesday to give evidence — in an apparent bid to expose the court system as unethical and corrupt.

“Pavlensky treats this trial as a farce. But our goal is to get him acquitted,” Dinze said.