Russian protest artist Pyotr Pavlensky flees to France

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Paris (AFP)

Russia's radical protest artist Pyotr Pavlensky, who last year set fire to the door of the security services headquarters in Moscow, has fled to France where he plans to seek asylum, he told AFP on Monday.

In an interview in Paris, the artist who memorably once nailed his scrotum to Red Square, said he fled Russia after he and his partner Oksana Shalygina were accused last month of sexual assault -- allegations he denies.

The couple arrived in the French capital on Saturday with their two children.

"We intend to seek asylum in France," said the 32-year-old artist, who was detained for questioning in December over the sexual assault claims.

"If we had stayed in Russia, Oksana and I would have been sent to a camp for up to 10 years," he added.

Pavlensky has gained a reputation for challenging Russia's restrictions on basic freedoms in radical, often painful performances that have won him international acclaim.

While best known for his 2013 Red Square performance entitled "Fixation", he has also sewn his lips together, wrapped himself in barbed wire, and chopped off part of his ear in his live acts.

In November 2015, he doused the doors of the FSB security service headquarters in petrol and set them on fire, in a performance called "Threat".

He spent seven months in jail awaiting trial for damaging the door but was eventually freed in June.

Russian media reported that the allegation of sexual assault was made by a young Moscow actress at a theatre known for its politically-themed plays, Teatr.doc.