Accessibility links

Undaunted After Surprise Release, Pavlensky Tells Russians To Stay 'Vigilant'

  • RFE/RL

Russian performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky has been set free after more than six months in detention over his protest actions, but emerged from a Moscow courtroom warning that political repression remains the basis of the Russian government's power.

The Meshchansky district court ordered Pavlensky to pay a fine of almost $8,000 for torching an outer door of the Federal Security Service's (FSB) headquarters in November, but he was spared a jail sentence in a rare show of leniency by the authorities.

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

"I thank you all," he said on his way out of court. "Thank you to everyone who was not afraid. Your support was very important."

Pavlensky was tried on charges of damaging a cultural site for dousing the doors of the FSB building, dubbed Lubyanka after the square it sits on, with fuel and setting it on fire in a November performance that he called Threat and an accompanying video titled Lubyanka Door Burning.

The downtown Moscow building was used by the FSB's Soviet-era political-police predecessors and was the site of detentions and executions of prominent figures during the Stalinist purges.

Pavlensky described the stunt as an attempt to highlight the security services' campaign of "terror" against Russian society.

"We witnessed that it is possible to methodically destroy culture, to be engaged in the methodical destruction of culture, and then on this basis to declare oneself a cultural monument," Pavlensky told journalists on June 8. "We have seen an active graveyard that also is the center of government, the center of power over 146 million people."

President Vladimir Putin used to have an office in the building when he was head of the FSB in the mid-1990s, before becoming prime minister.

"We must be very vigilant and very active. Otherwise, in the near future, a prison of our daily life will become a prison in literal sense for each of us," he said outside the court.

WATCH: Artist Fights The Kremlin With Nudity And Self-Harm

Pavlensky had faced a sentence of up to three years in prison, but prosecutors unexpectedly asked the court to fine, not jail, him.

Pavlensky must also pay 481,000 rubles ($7,400) in damages for the cost of the damaged door.

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

His trial was closely watched amid concern that it could become a repeat of the Pussy Riot trial, in which some members of the protest punk group were sentenced to two years in prison in 2012 for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" after performing a song criticizing Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church leadership in one of Moscow's major cathedrals.

Their incarceration caused an outcry in the West.

PHOTO GALLERY: Pavlensky's Threat -- The Story Behind The Photo

Pavlensky, 32, is known for intensely physical performances to highlight perceived restrictions on political freedoms. He has previously nailed his scrotum to Red Square, sewn his lips together, wrapped himself in barbed wire, and sliced off part of his ear.

Pavlensky has reportedly stated that his goal is to be tried for terrorism.

He consistently likened his case to that of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov, who was convicted by a Russian-run court of terrorism for setting fire to the offices of a pro-Kremlin party in Russian-annexed Crimea in 2014.

Pavlensky was also convicted last month for vandalism in a separate case for a 2014 performance in his home city of St. Petersburg, called Freedom and inspired by Ukraine's EuroMaidan unrest that unseated a pro-Russian president.

In that case, Pavlensky was given a noncustodial sentence of 16 months that was then immediately lifted as the statute of limitations had expired during the trial.

Pavlensky told journalists and supporters on June 8 that "it does not matter" how his trial ended.

"What is important is the fact that we were able to unmask, uncover the truth: the government is founded on the methods of terror."

With reporting by RFE/RL's Russian Service, AP, AFP, and Reuters
XS
SM
MD
LG