Controversial Russian artist Pavlensky 'wins asylum in France'

Controversial Russian artist Pavlensky 'wins asylum in France'

Paris (AFP) - Russian artist Pyotr Pavlensky, who once memorably nailed his scrotum to Red Square to denounce state power, has won political asylum in France, his lawyer told AFP on Thursday.

He fled with his wife and two children to France in January after he and his partner Oksana Shalygina were accused of sexual assault -- allegations he denies.

"The artist and his wife have obtained the status of political refugee," the lawyer, Dominique Beyreuther Minkov, told AFP.

The French office dealing with refugee requests declined comment, saying that it never communicated on its decisions.

The 33-year-old artist also declined to comment.

Pavlensky has gained a reputation for challenging Russian restrictions on political freedoms in radical, often painful performances that have won international acclaim.

While best known for his 2013 Red Square performance entitled "Fixation", he also sewed his lips together to protest against the jailing of members of the punk group Pussy Riot.

He has also wrapped himself in barbed wire and chopped off part of his ear.

In November 2015, he doused the doors of the FSB -- the successor to the Cold War-era KGB, or secret police -- in petrol and set them on fire, in a performance called "Threat".

After a high-profile trial, Pavlensky was handed a fine of 500,000 rubles ($7,800, 6,800 euros) and released after being found guilty of damaging a cultural site.

That was seen as a rare show of leniency from the authorities.

- 'Sacrificial lamb' -

The artist has won the Vaclav Havel award for creative dissent, previously given to Russian punk band Pussy Riot and Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei.

He spent seven months in jail awaiting trial for damaging the door of the infamous Lubyanka building before being eventually freed in June.

Pavlensky, who spent a month last year in a notorious psychiatric hospital undergoing state-ordered tests of his sanity that found him sound of mind, said he had encountered no difficulty leaving Russia.

"We left because I have no intention of being the regime's sacrificial lamb," he said when he left the country.

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.

Pavlensky told AFP in January that he and Shalygin were detained at Moscow airport on December 14 on their return from a trip to Warsaw and questioned under article 132 of the penal code dealing with sexual violence.

The pair were released after the questioning and told they had "more or less two possibilities: either go to a prison camp for 10 years... or leave Russia", he said.

They left the country the following day, travelling west through Belarus and Ukraine on their way to France.

When he arrived in France, he said he would be applying for asylum.