Criminal Charges Against Russian Dissident Artist Pyotr Pavlensky Suddenly Changed

From vandalism to “damaging a cultural heritage site.”

Russian artist Pyotr Pavlensky smiles during a hearing at a court in Moscow on February 26, 2016. Photo by Dmitry Serebryakov/AFP/Getty Images.

The criminal charges against the Russian radical performer and art activist Pyotr Pavlensky have been changed from “ideologically motivated vandalism” to “damaging a cultural heritage site”.

Russian investigators altered the charges on Tuesday, but the artist lawyer Dmitry Dinze told AFP that the maximum sentence, which stands at three years, would not change.

Pavlensky was arrested in November 2015, after carrying out the performance Threat, which involved setting fire to the wooden door of the Lubyanka building in Moscow, the quarters of the FSB today and of the KGB in Soviet times. The notorious historical building was erected before the 1917 revolution.

“The FSB acts using a method of uninterrupted terror and maintains power over 146 million people,” Pavlensky said in a statement released alongside a video of the protest.

According to Agence France Presse, last year, a judge estimated the cost of replacing the door at 55,000 rubles ($800).

Russian artist Pyotr Pavlensky poses after setting fire to the doors of the headquarters of the FSB security service, the successor to the KGB, in central Moscow early on November 9, 2015.<br>Photo: Nigina Beroeva/AFP/Getty Images.

Russian artist Pyotr Pavlensky poses after setting fire to the doors of the headquarters of the FSB security service, the successor to the KGB, in central Moscow early on November 9, 2015.
Photo: Nigina Beroeva/AFP/Getty Images.

Shortly after being detained, Pavlensky himself asked for his charges to be changed from vandalism to terrorism.

“Based on the logic of the law enforcement authorities, I demand that I be tried for terrorism,” Pavlensky said in November 2015, as reported by the Guardian.

He then added that he would “refuse to carry out these court rituals” if his charges were not changed, and linked his case to that of Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov, who was convicted in 2015 on terror charges over arson attacks on pro-Kremlin party offices in Crimea.

Pavlensky, who has made headlines in the last two years with a series of radical political performances— including nailing his scrotum to the Red Square, cutting off his earlobe while perching on the roof of the infamous Serbsky psychiatric center, and sewing his lips together to protest at the prosecution of the punk-rock activists Pussy Riot—is currently at Moscow’s Butyrka prison, where he was transferred after spending a month at Serbsky to verify his mental state.

Last week, the artist was placed in solitary confinement for 10 days, accused of breaking light bulbs.

On March 21, the artist’s partner Oksana Shalygina, wrote a post on Facebook stating that investigators had “started hauling in for questioning and searching the homes of people that Pyotr Pavlensky and I know,” and asked friends who could be targeted to refrain from opening their front doors without calling her or a lawyer first.

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