Russia detains artist who set fire to security service HQ

10th November 2015, Comments 0 comments

Russia on Tuesday ordered artist Pyotr Pavlensky to be jailed for 30 days pending trial after he set alight the doors of the feared FSB security service in Moscow in a political protest.

A Moscow district court ordered Pavlensky to spend 30 days in pre-trial detention until December 8 after prosecutors warned he could flee, pressure witnesses or reoffend, Russian news agencies reported.

His lawyer Olga Chavdar had asked for him to be placed under house arrest on bail of 1 million rubles ($15,500).

Pavlensky in a performance titled Threat in the early hours of Monday poured petrol in front of the wooden front doors of the FSB's imposing headquarters, popularly known as Lubyanka, and set fire to them.

He stood in front of the door holding the petrol canister until a policeman came running up.

Russia later opened a criminal case into vandalism, for which the 31-year-old artist could serve up to three years in prison.

It was the latest in a series of fearless performances which have seen Pavlensky nail his scrotum to Red Square in protest at tight police control, wrap himself in barbed wire and cut off part of his ear lobe.

In court on Tuesday he called the FSB performance a protest against "the organisation that holds 146 million people in fear."

He appeared at Moscow's Tagansky district court heavily guarded with five masked officers, to applause from supporters.

In a surprise move, he asked the judge to reclassify his case as terrorism.

He likened it to the case of Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov who was found guilty of masterminding arson attacks on pro-Kremlin party offices in Crimea last year and jailed in August for 20 years on terrorism charges.

"Based on the logic of the law enforcement authorities, I demand that I be tried for terrorism," he said, adding that otherwise he would "refuse to carry out these court rituals."

He asked supporters whether his performance had left a scorch mark on the FSB doors. Told it had, he said: "That's excellent. Let it stay that way."

Among the supporters in court was Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot punks, who was sentenced to two years in prison camp in 2012 for a protest performance in a Moscow church.

She praised Pavlensky's FSB action, telling AFP: "I think it's the greatest work of contemporary art for the last few years."

Pavlensky is already awaiting trial for vandalism for another performance in Saint Petersburg where he and other activists set fire to tyres to simulate the Maidan protests in Kiev that led to the ouster of the pro-Moscow government.

© 2015 AFP

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