MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian court on Wednesday ordered the release of a performance artist who was charged with vandalism for two stunts in Moscow and St. Petersburg, ending what could have been a trial to rival that of punk band Pussy Riot.
Pyotr Pavlensky has been in detention since November after he set fire to the doors of the headquarters of the Russian security agency FSB, formerly the KGB, in Moscow. In May, Pavlensky was found guilty for a pro-Ukraine protest in which he and other activists burned tires and banged metal sheets with sticks near a St. Petersburg cathedral.
Pavlensky claimed all of it was political art aimed to protest the Kremlin's turn to becoming increasingly authoritarian and intolerant of dissent.
The Moscow court on Wednesday found Pavlensky guilty of vandalizing the doors of what it said was a heritage building because prominent Russians had been kept in detention there. Pavlensky was fined about $7,600 and set free in the court room packed with reporters.
Pavlensky's trial was seen as a possible repeat of a trial of Pussy Riot members who were sentenced to two years in prison for a performance at Moscow's major cathedral. The charges against Pavlensky did carry a prison term but the prosecutors took everyone by surprise when they asked the court to fine, not jail him.
Speaking outside the courthouse on Wednesday, the St. Petersburg performance artist thanked everyone for their support.
"It does not matter how the trial ended," he said. "What is important is the fact that we were able to unmask, uncover the truth: the government is founded on the methods of terror."