Russian Protest Artist Pavlensky Alleges Police Brutality
Russian artist Pyotr Pavlensky appears in Moscow’s Tagansky district court in February charged with setting fire to the entrance door of the FSB building at Lubyanka Square in Moscow.
Best known for such protest actions as nailing his scrotum to Red Square or cutting off a piece of his ear, Russian political-protest artist Pyotr Pavlensky continues to put his body on the line.
"I have a broken knee, a fractured rib, internal bruising, " Pavlensky wrote this week in a message passed from his Moscow jail cell. "Every breath I take is painful."
"Every day, I see what ’police custody’ means, " the artist wrote.
Pavlensky is currently in pretrial detention as cases against him for two of his protest actions continue.
In one case, he is charged with damaging a historical monument for setting the door to the Moscow headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB) on fire in November 2014.
In the other, Pavlensky is on trial on vandalism charges for setting car tires on fire on a St. Petersburg bridge in February 2014 in an expression of support for Ukraine’s Euromaidan protesters. A verdict in that case is expected on May 19.
Pavlensky said his latest injuries were the result of an assault by the police unit charged with escorting him to and from the courtroom.
"At the Moscow City Court, they regularly beat arrestees and prisoners, " said Pavlensky’s partner, Oksana Shalygina, who heard the story from him during a May 17 jail visit.
"They just load them into the van and beat them. They just throw them around like pieces of meat. Pyotr got into that situation."
Shalygina added: "He was beaten by eight men using batons and their fists. A doctor at the detention center treated him, but refused to document the beating."
Pavlensky’s lawyer, Dmitry Dinze, told The Moscow Times that Pavlensky will not file a complaint about the abuse, saying he refuses to "participate in the bureaucratic procedures."
Despite his injuries, Pavlensky continues to appear in court.
"Art is when one’s word does not differ from one’s actions, when you are in control of your attention, " wrote artist Oleg Kulik, a Pavlensky supporter who is attending the hearings, on his Facebook page. "Even if it is hard to smile and your broken ribs are aching."
Pavlensky’s letter from jail is intended as his acceptance speech when he is awarded the Vaclav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent during the May 23-25 Oslo Freedom Forum in Norway.
Shalygina plans to accept the award from the New York-based Human Rights Foundation on the artist’s behalf and read his message.
Pavlensky has been using his current trial to continue making political points against the government of President Vladimir Putin.
He declined an amnesty that he would have been eligible for because the statute of limitations on the charge related to the 2014 protest has expired.
In April, his defense team brought several prostitutes in to testify. For a fee, the "defense" witnesses proceeded to state in clear terms how offended they were by Pavlensky’s protest.
In a written message, Pavlensky explained that the point was to expose the prosecution witnesses who also claimed they were offended by Pavlensky, as well as the prosecutors, police, and judges who he claims are forced to prosecute him for political reasons.
"Through this [action], each one of these prostitutes was able to rip through the scenery and demonstrate to everyone reality as it is, " Pavlensky wrote.
"Like it or not, but among prostitutes, judges, prosecutors, teachers, directors, and bureaucrats there is not the slightest difference. They are the same. Political reality itself has determined this and put everyone in their place."
Robert Coalson contributed to this report