Russia keeps artist behind bars for torching security HQ

Moscow (AFP) –


Russia on Friday ruled to keep performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky behind bars until April as he awaits trial for torching the door of the feared security service's headquarters.

Judge Natalya Larina ruled that Pavlensky could attempt to flee justice and travel abroad, and extended his detention in a Moscow prison until April 6.

His lawyer Dmitry Dinze argued in court that Pavlensky "is not a danger to the public" and that his activities have a "political aim."

When he set fire to the door of the FSB security service headquarters in a performance called "Threat" in November, Pavlensky "did not mean to cause material damage or to desecrate anything," Dinze said.

Pavlensky has been charged with vandalism for which he could serve up to three years in prison.

He has said the aim of his performance was to protest against "terrorism" by the state security services.

The 31-year-old artist sat in a cage at the hearing at Moscow's Tagansky district court, smiling and chatting with supporters, who clapped as he was brought in.

"As always, he is upbeat and in the mood for the struggle," his partner Oksana Shalygina told AFP.

Pavlensky has now been moved to Moscow's ageing Butyrka prison after spending a month in the Serbsky psychiatric hospital for tests of his mental state.

The hospital was notorious in the Soviet era for handing out false diagnoses of psychiatric conditions to political dissidents.

Pavlensky said that as a detainee undergoing testing he was not given any drug treatment during his stay.

"It's excellent in the Serbsky," he said.

The results of the psychiatric tests will be ready at the end of the month, his lawyer said.

Pavlensky has already passed several such tests after previous performances, which have seen him nail his scrotum to the ground on Red Square, sew together his lips and wrap himself in barbed wire.

He refused to answer questions from the judge. Instead he repeated an earlier demand for his case to be reclassified as "terrorism".

"I demand my case be requalified as terrorism, do you remember that? That's very good," he said.

Pavlensky argues his case should be treated as "terrorism" after two Ukrainian activists were convicted last year on terror charges for arson attacks on pro-Russian party offices in Crimea.

"Let the legal authorities be consistent," he said.

Dinze told journalists that the defence team would submit a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights over Pavlensky's detention.

The team is preparing a "fiery, colourful" defence for Pavlensky's trial, he added.

"I hope they will not silence us."