Russian performance artist convicted in pro-Ukraine protest

AP News
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Posted: May 19, 2016 10:48 AM
Russian performance artist convicted in pro-Ukraine protest

MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian performance artist known for his radical, politically charged performances was convicted Thursday of vandalism for a pro-Ukraine protest and sentenced to 16 months in prison.

Although a court found Pyotr Pavlensky guilty, he won't have to serve prison time because the statute of limitations had expired. But he remains in custody while awaiting trial in Moscow in a second case after he set fire to the doors of the Russian security agency, the former KGB.

Pavlensky was convicted for a performance on Feb. 23, 2014, in which he and other activists waved Ukrainian flags, burned tires and banged metal sheets with sticks near a St. Petersburg cathedral. The performance, called "Freedom," was in imitation of the Kiev mass street protests that had ousted Ukraine's pro-Russia president two days before.

Pavlensky, who was held in the Moscow courtroom in a glass cage, said the proceedings had "failed to feed a spirit of hate within me."

His partner, Oksana Shalygina, said Pavlensky had wanted the judge to take responsibility for the case by issuing a verdict.

"So we have heard what can actually happen: one year and four months for an art performance," she said. "So, here we are obviously talking about a repressive legal system and that artists are still being shut up and their mouths are being sewed up and we have no freedom of speech."

In one of his previous stunts, Pavlensky had sewed his mouth closed to condemn the imprisonment of three members of the punk music group Pussy Riot for protesting against President Vladimir Putin.

In his arguably most shocking performance, Pavlensky in 2013 nailed his scrotum onto the cobblestones of Red Square in what he said was "a metaphor for the apathy, political indifference and fatalism of modern Russian society."

He also wrapped a cocoon of barbed wire around his naked body outside the St. Petersburg legislature to protest repressive government policies.

Pavlensky still faces up to five years in prison if convicted in the upcoming trial over the fire he set in November at the headquarters of the Federal Security Service, the main KGB successor agency.

His associates released a video on his social media account that showed him standing next to the burning doors and holding a gasoline canister. In a script accompanying the video, Pavlensky said it was meant as a protest against what he called the heavy-handed tactics of the agency. He was charged with damaging an object of cultural significance.

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Lynn Berry contributed to this report.