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French officers take Pyotr Pavlensky into custody for setting fire to a central bank in Paris. Photo: Oksana Shaligyna.

Russian Artist Pyotr Pavlensky Released from Pre-Trial Detention in France

Following a pre-trial hearing in France today, Pyotr Pavlensky—the Russian dissident artist known for his radical acts of protest, which include nailing his scrotum to Moscow’s Red Square in 2013—has been released from detention. The outspoken activist, who was granted political asylum in the country last year, was arrested and charged with destruction of property, along with his partner Oksana Shalygina, in October 2017 for setting a central Banque de France building on fire.

Pavlensky fled Russia in January 2017 with Shalygina and their children after the couple were questioned by the police over accusations of sexual assault. They claimed that the allegations made by actress Anastasia Slonina were baseless and that Russia’s security services were actually behind the complaint. France granted them asylum in May 2017. Five months later, Pavlensky and Slonina started the blaze and proclaimed on social media that bankers have taken the place of monarchs. The act was the artist’s second act of arson—in 2015 he set fire to the door of the Moscow headquarters of the Russian Federal Security.

As the proceedings took place, several members of FEMEN, a Ukrainian female activist group, reenacted one of Pavlensky’s famous performances by sewing their lips shut outside the courthouse. According to a post on demonstrator Inna Shevchenko’s Twitter account, “the activists denounced the disproportionate repression carried out by the French state towards Piotr Pavlenski as well as the will to muzzle his militant speech and to deny his freedom of expression.”

According to the Art Newspaper, a representative of the Bank of France said that the institution is considering suing the artist for defamation. In an interview with Radio France Interantionale, Shalygina admitted that she was surprised that Pavlensky was released. In court, the prosecutor had called him “extremely dangerous” and argued that he should be incarcerated for the next ten years.

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